“There is nothing we can do and we will lose several of our players for a month. That it has passed to January is a real catastrophe for us “said the German technical director of Liverpool Jurgen Klopp, in reference to the fact that from the next date his team will be left without two members of his offensive trident, the Senegalese Sadio Mane and the egyptian Mohammed Salahin addition to the Guinean midfielder naby keitawho will go to play for their national teams in the Africa Cup of Nations.
This tournament, which will take place in Cameroon from January 9 to February 6, was scheduled for last Junewhen it was not stepped on the calendar with the European tournaments, but it had to be suspended due to the epidemic and weather conditions, something that was accepted by UEFA and FIFA, although both entities silently awaited a new postponement due to the new wave of Coronavirus (In fact, only five percent of the Cameroonian population have both doses of the vaccine). But not only did it never arrive, but on December 22 the calendar was confirmed by the president of the African Confederation (CAF), the South African Patrick Motsepe, the head of the organizing federation, the former striker for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter and Mallorca Samuel Eto’o.
Lionel Messi’s former teammate at Barcelona was essential for the Africa Cup to take place by reassuring CAF about the security measures that will be taken for the 52 games that must be played in total, with the requirement that all attendees present the double vaccination certificate and a PCR test lasting no more than 72 hours or an antigen test lasting no more than 24 hours. The most that FIFA could do, given the general resignation of the Europeans, was to postpone the date of the start of the concentration of the teams for a week from December 27 to January 3, so that at least some players can participate in a one more date of the English Premier League, the only one of the great tournaments that continues to be played during this time of winter break.
In reality, nothing was easy for this Cup. Cameroon obtained the venue to organize the Africa Cup on September 20, 2014 in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, but for 2019 and not for 2021, which corresponded to the Ivory Coast, but on November 30, 2018, CAF made a change and gave Egypt the chance, and then postponed the other organizers for two years: Cameroon went to 2021, Ivory Coast to 2023 and Guinea to 2025.
The Africa Cup, which will start on January 9 with the match between Cameroon and Burkina Faso, will include a phase of six groups of four teams, of which the first two and the four best third parties will advance to the round of 16 and from then on it will be played by direct elimination towards the final in the newly built Paul Biva Stadium -also the scene of the opening match-, with capacity for 60,000 spectators located in Olembé, in the suburbs of Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon since 1922, with almost two and a half million inhabitants according to the last census of 2012.
According to the draw made last August 17, the group A will be made up of Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Cape Verde, the B will include Senegal, Zimbabwe, Guinea and Malawi; the C, by Morocco, Ghana, Comoros and Gabon; the D, by Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau; he andby Algeria, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast; and the fby Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Gambia.
The fact that the tournament is played in January, in the middle of the season, caused a lot of problems in the top five European leagues, some of them, used to hiring many players from the African continent. In the case of English Premier League, up to fifteen teams will lose members of their squad for part of January. “We must think as a club and make decisions, and know that for four weeks we will not be able to count on them,” said Klopp, the Liverpool coach, one of the most affected. I can’t respect the Africa Cup more, it’s a very interesting tournament, but playing it in the middle of the season is an obvious problem. Having passed it to January is a real catastrophe for us”.
AND Liverpool will lose to Incorrect (he wants to replace him by hiring Porto’s rising Colombian winger, Luis Díaz-), Mané and Keita; Chelsea will be left without its starting goalkeeper, the Senegalese Édouard Mendy, the manchester City, without his Algerian striker Riad Mahrez; the Arsenal will have several losses as Tomas Partey (Ghana), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), and strikers Pierre Emerick Aboumeyang (Gabon) and Nicolás Pepé (Ivory Coast); the crystal Palace without the Ivorian Wilfried Zaha and Cheikhou Kouyaté. Just like him manchester united will have to dispense with two other Ivorians, Eric Baily and Amad Diallo, the Leicester of the Nigerian Kelechi Iheanacho; and Watford, owned by Senegalese Ismaila Sarr.
If the English Premier League loses 39 players going to the Africa Cup, the italian series A will be left without 22. Among them, Napoli’s Senegalese central marker Kalidou Koulibaly, Milan’s Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie and Cágliari’s Senegalese striker Keita Baldé.
For its part, the Spanish League will lose eleven players, that they will be left without at least two dates of the tournament and two keys to the Copa del Rey just for participating in the group stage of the African Cup but if they reach the final they could miss up to four dates of the tournament and even the quarterfinals of the cup.
The most affected is Villarrealwho will not be able to count on Aissa Mandi (Algeria), Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Samuel Chukweze (Nigeria) and Boulaye Dia (Senegal), as well as the Seville will lose its three Moroccans, goalkeeper Yassine Bono, and strikers Munir El Haddadi and Youssef En Nesyri, while another Moroccan, Abde, is trying to be convinced by the Barcelona not to leave. Cadiz loses to Akapo (Equatorial Guinea), Mallorca to Baba (Ghana) and Alavés to Loum (Senegal).
In the Second Division, Kenneth Omerou (Leganés) and Umar Sadiq (Almería), both called up by Nigeria, can be lost from date 23 to 26, depending on how their teams do.
The most affected of the five strongest leagues is, without a doubt, the French, that for cultural and traditional reasons it is the one that hires the most Africans for its teams and that will lose 51 players. Among them, Moroccan right-back Achraf Hakimi, defender Abdou Dialló and midfielder Idrissa Gueyé, both Senegalese, and Olympique Lyonnais Cameroonian striker Karl Toko Ekambi.
On Netherlands, Ajax will have to resign himself to letting his great Ivorian striker Sebastien Haller go for a month (scorer of ten goals in six games in the Champions League group stage), and in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich he will have to do the same with striker Eric Choupo-Moting.
Another novelty of the Africa Cup will be the performance of the women’s referee quartet, composed of one referee, two assistants and one VAR assistant as in the 2019 African Under-17, as part of a total of 24 referees, 31 assistants and 8 VARs from the 36 countries of the continent. The main referee will be the Rwandan Salima Mukasanga, the two assistants will be the Cameroonian Carine Atemzabong and the Moroccan Fatiha Jermoumi, and the VAR assistant will also be from Morocco, Bouchra Karboubi, and the four will always be part of the same team for the matches.
There will also be, as in the past Euro Cup and Copa América, two guest referees from another confederation, in this case from Concacaf (North, Central America and the Caribbean), the Guatemalan Mario Escobar as main referee, and the Mexican Fernando Guerrero, as a VAR assistant.