Paris (AFP) – African football chief Issa Hayatou blamed “a lack of infrastructure” for the 16-team Africa Cup of Nations tournament failing to mirror the expansion of the European Championship, he told RFI on Friday. 

“If there was no handicap originating from infrastructure we would have gone to 24 teams,” said Hayatou, the long-serving president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). “There is no reason why it’s not done, but we are realistic.

“Lots of countries can’t accommodate a CAN with more than 16 teams. Europe does it because it has lots of stadiums. In Africa, when I was elected in 1988, it was eight, then 12 in 1992 and 16 in 1996.

This year’s European Championship in France featured 24 teams for the first time, while FIFA president Gianni Infantino told AFP this week of his desire to increase the 2026 World Cup to 48 countries.

Next year’s Africa Cup of Nations will be held from January 14-February 5 in Gabon, a nation recently hit by violence triggered by disputed elections. 

Consequently, Hayatou said the Omar Bongo stadium in the capital Libreville may not be ready in time to host to opening game, or indeed the final, after work on the venue was delayed in the wake of the deadly unrest.

The draw for the tournament is scheduled to take place on October 19.