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From BBCSport

Friday, 18 January, 2002, 14:06 GMT
Countdown to Mali 2002
By BBC Sport's Online Eniwoke Ibagere in Bamako

Mali is racing against time to get everything ready for Saturday's opening ceremony for the African Nations Cup in Bamako.

Among the last-minute preparations are a city-wide clean-up, the repairing of street lights and giving buildings a fresh coat of paint.

The two major roads leading to the 26th March Stadium, the venue of the opening event, are being resurfaced.

The brand new 60,000-capacity stadium is ready, but is coated in the dust which characterises the city.
Inside the stadium, workmen, security officials and performers are preparing for Saturday's show.

Mascots of the 16 competing countries, dancers, drummers and singers will all be performing.

Work delayed

Modibo Keita, one of the tournament organisers, told BBC Sport Online, "We'll be show-casing to the world the best of Malian art, wildlife and music.

"Saturday's ceremony will even compete with the one at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games!".

Musicians Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare, are booked for Saturday, he added.

But taking a closer look shows just how difficult it has been for Mali to put on this tournament.

Seating in the stadium has been provided only for important dignitaries and the media.

The L'Amitie Hotel, home for the teams from Nigeria, Liberia, Egypt and Zambia, is still undergoing renovation.

The Nigerians say they had a dose of what they jokingly call "Malian treatment".

"We were trapped in the hotel elevators on one occasion," said Nigerian team doctor Abdullahi Mua'azu.

"It's not what many high-profile players and officials from various countries are used to but we just have to make the best of what the hosts have provided."

The competition kicks off at 1600 GMT on Saturday with Mali playing Liberia, who have qualified for the tournament for only the second time in their history.

Their veteran striker George Weah is one of the major attractions, though the team's recent form suggests they face a first round exit.

Reigning champions Cameroon and African giants Nigeria are the favourites to lift the trophy.
It opens today. The showcase event of African Soccer.:)

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