EXPLAINER: What to expect from biggest ever Afcon tournament
This article first appeared on The Conversation.
The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, popularly known as Afcon, is the biennial championship in which Africa’s top men’s teams compete for the gold-plated African Nation Cup trophy. The winner will hoist that trophy after the final on Friday 19 July at the Cairo International Stadium.
This tournament, organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), will be the 32nd edition of the competition and the first in which the format has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams. All 24 teams have now confirmed their places.
According to a recent report by Nielsen Sports, Africa is one of the most engaged football markets globally. It matches even regions like Europe and South America. This supports the CAF’s decision to increase the competitiveness of the tournament.
KEY THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Current title holders Cameroon were stripped of hosting rights last year due to delays with preparations and security concerns. Egypt was then selected as the host nation.
The timing of the competition is good news for fans of European teams. For the first time in the tournament’s history it’s being held during the European summer. This means African players who play for European clubs such as Liverpool’s Sadio Mané (Senegal) and Mohamed Salah (Egypt), or Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) will not be withdrawn from club duty mid-season to participate in the tournament.
The 24 qualifying teams have been drawn into six groups of four teams each:
Group A: DR Congo - Egypt - Uganda – Zimbabwe
Group B: Burundi - Guinea - Madagascar – Nigeria
Group C: Algeria - Kenya - Senegal – Tanzania
Group D: Ivory Coast - Morocco - Namibia - South Africa
Group E: Angola - Mali - Mauritania – Tunisia
Group F: Benin - Cameroon - Ghana - Guinea Bissau.
The teams in each group will play in a single round robin format. After the group stage, the top two teams and the four best third teams will advance to the round of 16. The winners will advance to the quarterfinals stage, and from then on, progress to the semifinals. The semifinal losers will contest a third-place match, while semifinal winners will advance to the final.
The full schedule of fixtures can be found on the CAF website.
Egypt is being tipped as the tournament favourite going into the competition. They have been champions of Africa more times than any other nation, and have lost only twice in their last 25 home games against African opponents. And of course they have the prolific goal-scoring machine, Mohamed Salah, who is rated as being one of the best players in the world, both on club level for Liverpool and for Egypt.
TOP 10 FACTS
Only three countries (Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia) took part in the first tournament in February 1957 and there was no qualifying competition. Egypt won.
2019 will be the first time the tournament features 24 teams, after CAF decided to expand the tournament to enhance competitiveness.
Egypt will be hosts for a record fifth time. They previously staged the Cup of Nations in 1959, 1974, 1986 and 2006, winning three of those four tournaments and finishing third in the other.
Egypt has been the most successful nation, with seven titles, followed by Cameroon (five), Ghana (four), Nigeria (three) and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ivory Coast (two each).
Madagascar, Burundi and Mauritania will be making their debuts at the tournament in 2019. Madagascar was a surprise qualifier and was among the first to qualify in October 2018, while Mauritania secured their ticket a month later with a game still to play. Burundi was definitely the biggest surprise. It currently occupies 138th spot out of 211 in the Fifa/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Twelve teams are yet to qualify for Africa’s biggest football tournament, including the Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini, Gambia, Lesotho, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, Somalia and South Sudan.
Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o is the leading overall Cup of Nations scorer, notching 18 goals in six tournaments between 2000 and 2010.
Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary became the oldest player at 44 years and 21 days to feature in the tournament when he faced Cameroon in the 2017 final in Libreville.
Shiva N'zigou of Gabon is the youngest player to feature and score at the tournament. He was 16 years and 93 days old when he played at Afcon in 2000, scoring for his team in a 1-3 defeat against South Africa.
The tournament has been switched to being held in odd-numbered years so as not to clash with the Fifa World Cup. Afcon will also, for the first time, be held mid-year, away from the traditional January – February window. This will alleviate the club-versus-country battles that have marred previous editions.
Three different trophies have been awarded during the tournament’s history. This is the third trophy, with the first and second awarded to Ghana and Cameroon in 1978 and 1984 respectively. Both won the trophy three times and therefore earned the right to keep it.
The current trophy was first awarded in 2002, and Egypt won it indefinitely after completing their historic treble of titles in 2010. Unlike Ghana and Cameroon, Egypt were presented with a replica, albeit a special full size one that they were allowed to keep.
Jo Clarke is a lecturer in sport business management, Sheffield Hallam University.