The CAF Africa Cup of Nations, officially CAN (French: Coupe d’Afrique des Nations), also referred to as AFCON, or Total Africa Cup of Nations after its headline sponsor is the main international men’s association football competition in Africa. It is sanctioned by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and was first held in 1957. Since 1968, it has been held every two years, switching to odd-numbered years in 2013. Algeria is the current Cup champion.
There had been speculation that the already-delayed Africa Cup of Nations might be postponed for a second time because of the Covid-19 pandemic and concern over the Omicron variant.
As the 2021 AFCON gets underway, we also have the EPL, Carabao Cup, La Liga; the major leagues and even the Nigeria Professional Football League ongoing. While Uefa’s flagship competition is often seen as the most competitive and exciting International football tournament, the due call has to be given to the African flagship.
Patrick Vieira opined that the Africa Cup of Nations is important for the continent and that it should be treated the same as the European Championships.
“With Senegal, I don’t think people understand [Sadio] Mane or Cheikhou Kouyate not representing their nation. If there was more coverage people will understand how important it is for the African continent”.
He further said:
“I believe that competition has to be more respected because this competition is as important as the European championship”.
The trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, who ply their trade with European, Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, and Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe are among those set to take part. Palace players Wilfried Zaha, Jeffrey Schlupp, Cheikhou Kouyate and Jordan Ayew are also all set to play at AFCON.
Ex-footballer and TV pundit, Ian Wright in a passionate address on TikTok said: “Loads of the best players in Europe right now are African. And if we love them at the club level, why can’t we love them at the international level like their counterparts from across the world? Why can’t we? Why is this tournament constantly getting so much flack?”
According to the Arsenal and England Legend, Africa Cup of Nations coverage is “completely tinged with racism”.
“Is there a tournament more disrespected than the African Cup of Nations?” Wright said on TikTok.
The general perception from the media is that the quality of African football is not up to standard; recall that Senegalese player Sadio Mane has urged for this pre-conceived notion to cease.
According to Sadio, the Africa Cup Of Nations and African football, in general, are not viewed in the same breath as Copa America or the Euros.
Meanwhile, the European Club Association had sent a letter to Mattias Grafström the Fifa deputy secretary-general, detailing “three fundamental concerns for clubs when it comes to the release of players to national teams”. Those are ensuring that “every player’s wellbeing is protected”, “that clubs are not forced to be without players for club competition matches”, and that all should be allowed to return to their clubs after the tournament “in a timely fashion, as per the applicable rules”.
One can understand why as some players have picked up career-threatening injuries during International assignments and have to depend on the clubs to “fix” them
Nigeria defender William Troost-Ekong in an interview with Football Focus stated that the Africa Cup of Nations should “100 per cent be more respected”.
The Watford centre-back said seeing Premier League players being asked if they would honour their national call-ups had been “difficult”.
The 28-year-old is one of five Premier League players representing Nigeria in Cameroon and is set to make his second appearance at the tournament.
“If it was the Euros or any other tournament, I don’t think there would be any kind of conversation like this,” Troost-Ekong added.
“I can understand it to an extent because we are leaving during the season, which is probably different to other major tournaments that are happening”
Should the timing of the African Cup Of Nations be changed?
The tournament was originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021 but CAF announced on 15 January 2020 that due to unfavourable climatic conditions during this period, the tournament would take place from 9 January to 6 February 2021. Recall that on 30 June 2020, CAF moved the tournament for the second time to January 2022 following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the continent, whilst retaining the name 2021 Africa Cup of Nations for sponsorship purposes.
The 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations was hosted by Egypt from June 21 to July 19 2019. This was the first time the biennial tournament was held in the summer. It was also the first to be made up of 24 teams.
From January 2019 to July 2019 to July 2021 to January 2021 to January 2022. We’re finally here.
The coronavirus concerns live predominantly in the frustrations of coaches, attempting to put together teams and compose tactical strategies not knowing who will be available until the results came in, and of course, back in Europe. This year, more than any other AFCON year, surely heightened by the COVID context, the pushback from European clubs about losing their players midway through the campaign has felt sharper than ever; evident in Odion Ighalo’s absence.
READ ALSO:- Will Odion Ighalo Be Missed?
Jurgen Klopp’s allegedly misperceived comments about “a small tournament” back in 2021 prompted a predictable backlash, but while some commentators perhaps mistook his words knowingly to make their point, they brought out in others a deep-seated protectionist impulse toward the tournament. It’s not hard to see why.
The nations cup comes to Cameroon when the world is in turmoil, and the question of If “they” are ready is no longer relevant. We now look forward to the opening ceremony of Africa’s biggest tournament, and the opening game as the host nation take on Burkina Faso.