LUANDA - Hosts Angola kick off the African Nations Cup against Mali on Sunday, hoping that home support will spur them on to an ideal start to a tournament that has already been marred by a gun attack on the Togo team bus.
Despite being one of the lowest ranked sides in the 16-team competition, Angola believe home advantage will give them a vital edge in the Group A encounter against a Mali team boasting several key players from the Spanish league.
However, the first match at Luanda's new 50,000-seater November 11th stadium will be played out under a blanket of security following Friday's gun attack on the Togo team bus in the enclave of Cabinda.
The death of the bus driver and the injury to nine of the Togo delegation, including two players, has sent shockwaves through a tournament Angola had hoped would prove it was back on the road to normality after several decades of civil war.
The attack was claimed by separatists in Cabinda, an oil-rich enclave north of Angola and bordered by Congo.
As organisers await Togo's decision on whether they would play in the tournament at all, Angola were focusing on events on the pitch and looking to use their home advantage to maximum effect
"A good professional is always motivated to play in front of a lot of people and having 50,000 fans cheering us on is a huge motivation," Angola's striker Mantorras told Angolan state media.
"Mali have good players but they do not have the public on their side. This is a bid advantage for us."
Angola's opponents have built a team around the skill and experience of Spain-based trio Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita and Frederic Kanoute, a former African Footballer of the Year.
Mali have been buoyed by the news that Barcelona's Keita and Sevilla's Kanoute have both been declared fit for Sunday's opener after missing warm-up matches in Qatar over the last weeks.
"I have a lot of confidence in this group and if we can negotiate the opening game well, I think we can go far in this competition," coach Stephen Keshi told Mali's L'Essor newspaper.
Algeria and Malawi meet in the group's other match on Monday.comments