CAF ‘think tank’ to mull Na­tions Cup changes

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

New-look Africa Cup of Na­tions and CAF Cham­pi­ons League com­pe­ti­tions could emerge this week from dis­cus­sions in Morocco that will in­clude FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino. A two-day CAF sym­po­sium be­gins to­day in Rabat and of­fi­cials, coaches and for­mer stars have been tasked with plot­ting the fu­ture of the pop­u­lar sport in the con­ti­nent.

On Fri­day, a CAF ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee meet­ing will pre­cede an ex­tra­or­di­nary gen­eral assem­bly in­volv­ing the 55 mem­ber as­so­ci­a­tions, where changes could be adopted. For­mer stars in­vited in­clude Joseph-An­toine Bell of Cameroon, Hos­sam Has­san of Egypt, Rabah Mad­jer of Al­ge­ria, Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha of Nige­ria and Badou Zaki of Morocco.

Lead­ing na­tional coaches Florent Ibenge of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Herve Re­nard of Morocco and Claude le Roy of Togo are also ex­pected to at­tend. When Mala­gasy Ah­mad Ah­mad scored a shock CAF pres­i­den­tial tri­umph over long-serv­ing Cameroo­nian Issa Hay­a­tou last March, he vowed to thor­oughly re­view African foot­ball.

The Morocco gath­er­ing is the ful­fil­ment of that prom­ise with the tim­ing, fre­quency and num­ber of qual­i­fiers in the Cup of Na­tions likely to be among the hottest top­ics. Host­ing the bi­en­nial tour­na­ment in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary has long been a source of frus­tra­tion for Euro­pean clubs, es­pe­cially in Eng­land and France, where many Africans play.

Hay­a­tou con­sis­tently re­jected sug­ges­tions of a move to June, say­ing the weather then was too hot in north­ern Africa, too wet in the west and cen­tre and too cold in the south. But his view was as much about not bow­ing to pres­sure from Europe as cli­matic con­di­tions be­cause African na­tional teams and clubs play reg­u­larly dur­ing June without ad­verse ef­fects.

Ah­mad ap­pears more of a “team player” than his my-way-or-the-high­way pre­de­ces­sor, and what hap­pened to even­tual cham­pi­ons Cameroon be­fore the 2017 Na­tions Cup has swayed his mind to­ward change. Liver­pool de­fender Joel Matip was among six “In­domitable Lions” who re­fused to be con­sid­ered, say­ing their club ca­reers were more im­por­tant than na­tional duty.

If Euro­pean clubs had their way, the Cup of Na­tions would be held in mid-year only ev­ery four years. They may well get their wish on tim­ing, but not on fre­quency. The Cup of Na­tions is much more than a foot­ball tour­na­ment with new sta­dia, roads and other in­fra­struc­ture among the ben­e­fits to the host na­tion, so the two-year cy­cle is set to stay.

What is less cer­tain is how many teams will com­pete in fu­ture edi­tions with some of­fi­cials favour­ing an in­crease from 16 teams to 24, bring­ing it in line with the Euro Cham­pi­onship. The ad­van­tage would be more teams ex­posed to top-level com­pe­ti­tion and the dis­ad­van­tage a di­lu­tion of the qual­i­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion with vir­tu­ally one in ev­ery two teams qual­i­fy­ing.

Host­ing could also be­come more re­stric­tive as six sta­di­ums would be needed in­stead of four, dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing the num­ber of coun­tries who could stage the tour­na­ment. Were the next fi­nals in 2019 to be a 24-team af­fair, an al­ready-be­hind-sched­ule Cameroon could be forced to pull out, with Al­ge­ria and Morocco re­port­edly in­ter­ested in tak­ing over.

Some of­fi­cials be­lieve the best clubs, mostly from the north, should au­to­mat­i­cally qual­ify for the 16-team Cham­pi­ons League group stage. Cur­rently, they get pre­lim­i­nary round byes, then play a home-and-away tie, some­times with un­ex­pected con­se­quences.

Five-time cham­pi­ons TP Mazembe of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo were stunned in the round of 32 this year, los­ing on away goals to CAPS United of Zim­babwe. It meant de­mo­tion to the sec­ondary CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup for the “Ravens”, re­duc­ing their first-prize earn­ing po­ten­tial from $2.5 mil­lion (2.2 mil­lion euros) to $1.25 mil­lion. Ah­mad favours zonal qual­i­fy­ing for the three age-limit Cup of Na­tions-U17, U20, U23 — to curb travel time and costs. This for­mat is used for the African Na­tions Cham­pi­onship (CHAN), a na­tional team com­pe­ti­tion ex­clu­sively for foot­ballers who play in their coun­try of birth. —AFP

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