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Racing against time

LUANDA, Oct 1 – Digital images of the new stadiums for the African Nation's Cup (CAN) beam down from billboards across Angola, but the reality in the four host cities is somewhat removed from the architect's dreams.

MBOMBELAAnd as the outdoor countdown clocks dotted around Luanda tick past 100 days on Friday, Angola does not have much time left to get ready for the tournament that kicks off on January 10.

At the stadium in Luanda, the largest of the four with a capacity of 50,000, Chinese labourers are working through the night and the inauguration scheduled for Angola’s Independence Day on November 11 has been put back to an unspecified December date.

Cabinda – despite being the most remote in an enclave physically separated from Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo – appears to be the closest to completion, although concerns remain over what off-pitch facilities will be available in a province which is also home to a guerrilla separatist movement.

Stadiums at Lubango and Benguela are significantly further on than Luanda, but plenty of work remains to finish the roads linking them to the cities where the fans and players will be based.

Even work at airports is still in progress – Luanda’s departure area remains half in a tent and Benguela’s new runway is still being checked for landmines – but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) remains confident.

CAF official Suketu Patel has blasted rumours that 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa might have to step in as "absolute rubbish".

"I think it is going extremely well," he said at the end of a five-day inspection mission to the host cities.

One area of concern raised by CAF was entry visas – which can be notoriously difficult, requiring invitation letters from within Angola and waits of six weeks or more.

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However, Patel said the Angolan government had pledged to resolve this and sports minister Goncalves Muandumba said travelling fans would not need an invitation letter but "had to comply with normal requests from embassies".

Angola has had a tougher job than most to prepare for the Nations Cup, having spent 27 years fighting a civil war which ended only in 2002, leaving the country with no infrastructure and widespread poverty.

The Nations Cup – which comes with an estimated price tag of one billion dollars – is being used as a stimulus for development and as well as the stadiums, includes new roads, hospitals and remodelled airports.

But some are asking if a country where two thirds of the population live on less than two dollars a day is spending too much on hosting a football tournament.

"CAN has been marketed as a point of pride for the nation, putting Angola on the international map, raising the country’s profile for all the right reasons," Douglas Steinberg, country manager for Save the Children in Angola told AFP.

"But the financial cost of all this is not being advertised, and if you asked most people what they thought about CAN, they would see it as something to be proud of, rather than question the amount of cash being spent."

Living among the smashed concrete of a derelict fun fair in the coastal city of Lobito, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Benguela’s new stadium, Micha, 46, scrapes a living for his family from fishing, despite having lost a leg to a landmine during the war.

"Of course we want a proper house and new schools and health posts," he told AFP. "But we also want CAN. It will bring good things to our country, it is welcome."

While Micha may welcome the foreign fans, few are likely to see his desperate living conditions.

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Jose Patrocinio, who heads Lobito-based aid agency Omunga said the Nations Cup would bring positive elements to Angola, including investment and visitors, but he added: "It’s important people aren’t given a false impression of this country."

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