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One week to go
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 13 - 06 - 2019

Egypt is ready to receive the 23 participating teams and their supporters as beloved football fans from around the globe await the start of the Africa Cup of Nations, or AFCON.
This week saw the conclusion of work in all six stadiums as well as all 24 training pitches. For the first time in the history of the AFCON, the organisers allocated a training pitch for each of the participating teams.
The Egyptian president's consultant Sherif Ismail, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi this week visited all six venues for the final inspection, then delivering them to the Organising Committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), eight days before the beginning of the tournament, according to the regulations. CAF will then start preparing the stadiums for the technical part and the kick-off.
CAF officials were impressed with the renovations of the stadiums and training pitches, not only from the inside but also the immediate areas of the venues whose roads were paved and surroundings beautified, along with the fan zones.
Egyptians, too, are reportedly happy with the renovations, saying they are proud of the facilities.
Egypt was picked to host the tournament only in January which did not leave much time to prepare. But it succeeded in a very short time to be ready for the one-month long tournament. Sobhi kept his word when he promised to squeeze in two years of work in just three months. Few countries could have done it on such short notice but Egypt has the organisational know-how, having held four AFCON tournaments.
Hotels are also ready to receive guests, whether the participating teams or visitors. The organisers are keen that delegations and spectators enjoy a pleasant stay in Egypt.
Some teams have already started arriving in Egypt, whether to play friendly matches against the hosts like Tanzania and Guinea, or to have their own training camp before the tournament, like Nigeria, which arrived on Monday in Ismailia for their final closed training camp as part of their build-up to the tournament.
Madbouli inspecting the recent renovations at Cairo Stadium
Interestingly, the Nigerians who play in Group B in Alexandria, have chosen to train in Ismailia, the venue of Group F. Alexandria is located in the northwest of the country and Ismailia in the northeast with different weather conditions. Alexandria has moderate weather in the summer. The luckiest teams would apparently be those playing in the group in Alexandria.
The 32nd edition of the AFCON is scheduled to kick-off on 21 June and run until 19 July. It is the first time the tournament is being held in the summer instead of winter and with the participation of 24 teams instead of the usual 16.
More than 1,000 volunteers have been trained to serve the event's participants, organisers and guests. The past week has seen volunteers receiving theoretical training courses; this week it's field training. Volunteers will serve in stadiums, hotels, spectators services, medical, protocol, media, marketing and gate controls.
Cairo International Airport is on alert with the arrival of the teams. The organisers, together with the Ministry of Aviation, have dedicated Hall 4 for receiving the team delegations and their officials, and where they would receive their entry visas on arrival. As for visitors and spectators, instructions have been sent to Egyptian embassies and consulates the world over to speed up the process of obtaining entry visas to Egypt, especially for ticket holders and accredited media.
Tickets have been sold out, especially Egypt's three matches in the first round. This edition of the AFCON also witnesses the online selling of tickets. Egyptians are said to be happy with the experience of buying their tickets online instead of having to queue for long hours to claim tickets or be forced to search for them on the black market. With this new technique, the process is running smoothly.
This is the fifth time Egypt will host the Africa Cup of Nations. The Egyptians also hold the record of winning it the most times, with seven titles.
In the last edition of AFCON, the Pharaohs were runners-up in 2017 in Gabon after losing to Cameroon 2-1 in Libreville. Now, playing on home soil, the Egyptians will be going for an eighth title. In three of the editions held in Egypt, the Pharaohs claimed the title, in 1959, 1986 and 2006.


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