Cameroon is racing against the clock to complete preparations for the biggest African sporting event.
Premier League trio Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez will be star attractions in Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, which promises to be "exceptional".
The 36-match group phase kicks off on January 9 at the newly built Olembe Stadium in Yaounde and the tournament concludes at the same 60,000-seat venue on February 6 with the final.
"We are going to host with the people of Cameroon an exceptional tournament. It will be the most successful AFCON (Cup of Nations)," Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Patrice Motsepe said on Thursday.
"The world will witness the best of African football and hospitality. We can host a football tournament as good as any in Europe."
Champions Algeria top a 24-team cast that includes former title-holders Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia.
While record seven-time winners Egypt will be making an unrivalled 25th appearance at the African football showpiece, Comoros and Gambia are debutants.
READ MORE: Salah, hosts Egypt set for Africa Cup bow in stifling heat
It is a wide-open competition with Algeria, unbeaten in 33 matches since late 2018, the logical favourites, but there are at least seven other nations capable of conquering Africa.
Cameroon, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia will believe they can go all the way while Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali should not be underestimated.
Guinea, who rank among the outsiders, have been told by junta leader Mamady Doumbouya that they must repay state-funded preparation costs if they do not return to Conakry as champions.
But as Liverpool forwards Salah and Mane, Manchester City winger Mahrez and other Premier League stars prepare for action, African football officials remain upbeat about success of the tournament.
Rumours on postponement
The build-up to the biennial tournament has been marred by rumours that it would be postponed or cancelled owing to a worldwide coronavirus surge.
There have also been reports of Cameroon racing against the clock to complete preparations for the biggest African sporting event.
This is the fourth attempt by the central African state to play hosts after failing to meet 2019 deadlines and being replaced by Egypt, then losing out to unfavourable weather conditions and Covid-19.
READ MORE: Egypt to host 2019 African Nations Cup