The postponed tournament is taking place in Cameroon between 9 January and 6 February.
The tournament was initially intended to be taking place in the summer of 2021 but due to Covid-19, it was postponed to the beginning of 2022. Despite the longer wait for this instalment of the competition, the tournament has still been met with some negativity due to a suggested lack of credibility.
January 9 marked the start of football’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021. 52 games will be played out between an initial 24 African footballing nations. This year’s tournament, typically taking place every two years, is being held in Cameroon. All involved nations will be vying to emerge victors of the competition from the final match taking place on February 6.
Defending champions Algeria will be hoping to replicate their performances from the 2019 AFCON which saw them defeat Senegal 1-0 in the final to lift the trophy. Algeria is not alone in being among the favourites to win the 2022 AFCON, however. Senegal will be a team to watch after reaching the final previously and boasting stars such as Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy and Liverpool’s Sadio Mane in their squad. Attacking talent such as Wilfried Zaha, Nicolas Pepe and the in-from Sebastian Haller will make Ivory Coast a real threat in the competition. With the Ivorians being drawn in the same group as Algeria, top-quality games will likely be played out early in the competition. However, despite not possessing quite as many stars as some of the other nations, with Mohammed Salah in the attack, Egypt will be in with a good shot of making it far in the competition. Salah is perhaps the best in the world at the moment and Egypt will be hoping their captain can replicate the level of performance he has shown each season at Liverpool for the national team.
With the world cup only occurring every four years, it is important that international football remains competitive and engaging. AFCON is needed as it provides a chance for African nations to compete in the same way other countries around the globe do. However, the tournament’s credibility has been questioned, particularly this current instalment. The timing has seen all the major football leagues across the globe interrupted with many African players being called up for international duty. This means clubs may suffer as a number of players leave the squad midway through the season. Considering the continuing impact of Covid-19 in influencing player absences, teams’ seasons could be majorly derailed as they struggle with a lack of available players. This has already led to games being postponed such as the Tottenham v Arsenal fixture with Arsenal dealing with absences caused by Covid and AFCON.
Additionally, the refereeing standard in AFCON games has been scrutinised. Recently, the Mali v Tunisia fixture saw Mali win 1-0. However, this game saw the referee make a huge error in blowing for full time in the eighty-fifth minute, at least five minutes too early. After the mistake was pointed out, the game was continued before the referee blew for full time too early once again, this time in the eighty-ninth minute. Tunisia were left furious at the refereeing performance which also saw the referee oppose VAR in its recommendation to withdraw a red card for sending a player off. This level of refereeing standard at this level is unanimously unacceptable. It disadvantages a team, raises plenty of debate about how to resolve the issue and devalues the credibility of the AFCON competition.
AFCON remains a highly anticipated competition that gives African nations the chance to compete at a high level of football. It allows individual players the opportunity to perform on a global stage that many would not receive otherwise. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the timing of the tournament has been far from ideal, with domestic clubs being negatively impacted. AFCON remains an exciting tournament however, for its own credibility, the refereeing standard must be scrutinised to ensure the events of the Mali v Tunisia match are not repeated.