RESUMPTION OF CONTINENTAL HOSTILITIES ON THE FOOTBALL PITCH BECKONS

The long awaited continental showpiece is here again! This is the only platform where the powerhouses in African football lock horns to contest the much coveted AFCON trophy. The tournament, which hitherto was hosted every two years saw a change in its schedule, in May 2010, from even to odd-numbered years mainly because it clashed with the World Cup.

Changes made to the competition

The 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) has seen some changes in organisation and participation. This year’s flagship biennial men’s football tournament, dubbed the TOTAL 2019 Africa Cup of Nations for sponsorship reasons, is scheduled to take place from June 15 to July 13. It was changed from the usual January–February slot by the continent’s football governing body – Confederation of African Football (CAF), to make it possible for the continent’s best players to feature in the tourney following. In the past, handlers of African national teams faced resistance from European clubs in releasing players for the AFCON because it occurred at a crucial period for the European leagues, forcing many African stars to choose between staying with their clubs, who are also their employers, and representing their countries.

Meanwhile, that is not the only change that has been effected. Participating teams have been increased from sixteen (16) by eight (8) new slots, bringing the number of participating teams to twenty-four (24).

Host nation dilemma resolved

Egypt was named the new host of this year’s tourney after title-holders, Cameroon, were stripped off the rights to host the competition on the grounds of safety and infrastructural concerns. Not only is Cameroon bereft of the requisite infrastructural developments, but there is also anarchy due to the civil dissensions birthed by language concerns. Additionally, the insurgency of the infamous Boko Haram group in the country does not make it fit to serve the purpose of host nation.

All the same, Egypt is not without problems. There are serious safety concerns for participating teams and their supporters as the gloom of the 2012 mayhem, which led to the demise of over 70 Al Ahly fans, lingers on in the minds of many. It was not until this year that fans were allowed to throng the various stadiums to witness football matches after the incident happened albeit, a lot more supporters groups have yet been barred from attending games. Nonetheless, in spite of any unfortunate circumstances, Egypt will provide the right ambience and space for the showpiece event to blossom. The tourney will be hosted across eight venues in five cities, and it is worth noting that the 75,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium will be just awesome for the opening fixture and its ceremony.

Participating teams

Ghana, Kenya, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania have already qualified and await the others to battle it out for continental supremacy. Interestingly, Madagascar will make a historic maiden appearance and were surprisingly the first to qualify for the competition.

Who is who?

The continent’s best-performing football icons will converge on the pitch to exhibit their prowess. The likes of Mo Salah, El Hadary of Egypt; Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Alex Iwobi of Nigeria; Slimani, Mahrez, Brahimi of Algeria; Mane of Senegal; Andre Ayew and the resilient Asamoah Gyan of Ghana will make the competition exciting to watch.

Mohammed Salah, the hottest footballer on the continent at the moment, comes into this year’s competition on the back of a successive African Player of the Year Award. His red-hot form makes him a threat to any team his country faces; but we live to see if he can deliver as expected of him. Can Sadio Mane, who carries the Teranga Lions’ hopes, replicate his fine form at Anfield, which has earned him a spot amongst the Premier League’s best attackers? Or will Asamoah Gyan be able to stage an all-time-best performance in this year’s competition or help break the jinx and hand his country the trophy before he hangs his boots? Only time will tell!

We eagerly look forward to the mouth-watering goals, the dazzling runs, the deft touches, the electrifying pile-drivers, the clinical finishes and the wonderful saves the competition brings. This year’s edition promises to be exciting, and we cannot but join other soccer fans to say: “Ooo! Let the games begin!”

Author: Frederick Godwill Amissah

Freelance writer & soccer lover

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