Brazzaville - Former champions Congo Brazzaville, Ghana and Nigeria are among seven countries competing from Sunday for the All-Africa Games football gold medals.
Egypt also qualified for the eight-nation tournament in Brazzaville only to withdraw because coach Hossam El Badry did not want to field a weakened team.
Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers this weekend and CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup group games next weekend would have deprived him of many stars.
Hosts Congo won the first of 10 previous Africa Games football competitions in a novel manner 50 years ago, defeating Mali 7-1 on corner kicks after a goalless final against Mali in Brazzaville.
Nigeria staged the second Africa Games eight years later and there was another home success in football to celebrate as the hosts were 2-0 victors over Guinea.
Ghana received gold medals much more recently, edging South Africa on penalties after the 2011 final finished 1-1 in Mozambique.
Originally open to all footballers, the Africa Games is now restricted to under-23 stars, like Olympic Games qualifiers
Group A in Brazzaville comprises Congo, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Zimbabwe while Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal make up Group B after Egypt pulled out.
It would be no surprise if Congo and Nigeria featured in the final at the new 60,000-seat Stade de l'Unite (Unity Stadium) in Brazzaville.
Such a pairing would offer the Congolese a chance to avenge a recent 2-1 aggregate loss to the Nigerians in a Rio Olympics eliminator.
Congo have home advantage, a combative squad, and France-born coach Claude Le Roy possesses a deep knowledge of African football from decades spent working successfully around the continent.
Now 67, Le Roy has finished first and second with Cameroon, third with Ghana and fourth with Senegal in Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.
He can call on four of the 2015 Congo Cup of Nations squad that reached the quarter-finals before squandering a two-lead to neighbours the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Goalkeepers Christoffer Mafoumbi and Pavelh Ndzila, defender Sagesse Babele and striker Syvere Ganvoula are the quartet who were part of the senior national squad last January.
Because the Africa Games are not part of the FIFA international calendar, clubs need not release players and this rule has hit Nigeria hard.
Among those who will be missing is new Liverpool signing Taiwo Awoniyi, whose brace in a 2-1 victory over Zambia in Lusaka helped Nigeria qualify.
A Cup of Nations call-up for Chima Akas, an injury to Stanley Amuzie, and Godwin Saviour not being freed by his club added to the pre-tournament difficulties of coach Samson Siasia.
But the former Super Eagles star believes he has a squad capable of winning the September 18 final of the 13-fixture competition.
"We are going for gold -- what else do you think we are going after?," he told reporters before travelling to the oil-rich central Africa state.
"Preparations were not good because clubs refused to release players timeously, but I am very hopeful of a successful outcome in Brazzaville."