Johannesburg (AFP) – Neither Africa Cup of Nations nor World Cup qualifying may be possible in Africa this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there will be sufficient 2021 matchdays to catch up.
World governing body FIFA originally allocated four two-match windows for Africa next year — March, August/September, October and November.
The Zurich-based organisation have since added a four-match window next June, raising to 12 the number of matches national teams can play, provided safe health conditions exist.
And 12 matchdays is exactly what Africa needs to complete qualifying as the Cup of Nations requires four and the World Cup eight.
After two rounds of qualifying last year, the Cup of Nations elimination process for what was then the 2021 tournament in Cameroon ground to a halt as the COVID-19 disease spread.
Matches planned for March, June and August/September this year fell victim to the coronavirus as football in Africa shut down apart from Burundi, where it continued with crowds.
There are two-match windows this October and November, but there is considerable doubt as to whether African national teams will be ready to restart by then.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Ahmad Ahmad has warned about rushing to resume before the disease is contained in a continent full of fragile public health systems.
“We have to be so careful about restarting our qualifying competitions,” he told AFP recently. “We dare not send our footballers back into action prematurely.”
Ahmad added that the Cairo-based organisation would heed the advice of world health body WHO and national health departments before any restart decisions were made.
He stressed flexibility, noting that “decisions we make today regarding the pandemic can be overtaken by tomorrow”.
– Cameroon qualify automatically –
The 2021 Cup of Nations tournament in Cameroon has been put back one year to January/February 2022 and the March and June windows could be used to complete qualifying.
There are 12 groups of four with the winners and runners-up in all but Group F securing places at the finals.
Cameroon qualify automatically as hosts, but are in Group F to gain competitive match practice, leaving Cape Verde, Mozambique and Rwanda to fight for one place.
If CAF opt to use March and two June matchdays for the Cup of Nations, World Cup qualifying could start in June and continue in August/September, October and November.
The struggle to claim one of five places reserved for Africa at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar consists of 10 four-nation groups from which the winners advance to the final phase.
In the concluding stage, the 10 survivors will be split into five ties, played on a home-and-away basis, with the aggregate winners securing World Cup places.
Algeria, who lifted the 2019 Cup of Nations by defeating Senegal 1-0 in the final in Cairo thanks to an early Baghdad Bounedjah goal, are among the 10 top group seeds.
The others are Tunisia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal, Morocco and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
All except Mali are previous World Cup qualifiers with DR Congo achieving the feat in 1974 when the vast central African country was called Zaire.
Africa fared disastrously at the last World Cup, in Russia two years ago, with Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia all eliminated after the first round.
It was the first time since 1982 that no African country progressed beyond the first round at the tournament.
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