AFRICA Cup of Nations co-host, Gabon, opened the Stade de Franceville on Monday evening with a 0-0 friendly draw against Sudan.

The 25,000-seat arena is the last of the tournament’s four venues to open ahead of the finals. The Nations Cup final will take place in the Gabonese capital, Libreville, while matches will also be played in Malabo and Bata in Equatorial Guinea.

The competition begins this weekend when Equatorial Guinea plays Libya in Bata. The Stade de Franceville will host six group games and a quarter-final during Africa’s premier football event.

Gabon is due to play just one game there, when it takes on Tunisia on January 31 in their final Group C clash – with Morocco and Niger the other sides in the pool. In Monday evening’s clash, Gabon’s Panthers had chances but Daniel Cousin and Eric Mouloungui missed good chances.

Meanwhile, Sudan will contest Group B at the finals, where it will play Angola, Burkina Faso and tournament favourite, Cote d’Ivoire. The 2012 finals will take place from January 21 to February 12.

Also, both Local Organising Committees (LOCs) in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon have declared their countries ready to host the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations with the kick-off this weekend. There have been questions raised over the availability of hotels, transport infrastructure and telecommunications, but the LOCs insist that everything would be alright when the event kicks off.

As the media begin to descend on the two countries this week, those assertions that everything is ready will be put to test. This tourney will be a poignant one for the Zambians, whose minds will be on the 1993 plane crash off the coast of Gabon.

In April of that year, a Zambian Air Force Buffalo DHC-5D that was flying the team to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup qualification match crashed, killing all 30 passengers, including 18 players and a number of coaches. Chipolopolo mourned the loss of lives and then had to rebuild the national team, amazingly finishing as runner-up to Nigeria at the 1994 Nations Cup.

Captain Kennedy Mweene spoke of the pride he feels at leading his countrymen back to Gabon and how he hopes they can write a happier piece of history: “Imagine if we could lift the trophy, it would be a fantastic way to honour the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the land they loved,” he told CafOnline.

“I am going to Central Africa with footballers who are committed to fighting for their country and not just themselves. We will be proud ambassadors of Zambia. We will respect all our opponents, but we will fear none of them.”

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