Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues
Mohamed Salah
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Updated 21 January 2020

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues
  • High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire

CAIRO: There is little doubt that the switch by the Africa Cup of Nations from summer to winter competition will have a big impact on European competitions, with those at the top of the Premier League perhaps most affected.

The confederation confirmed that from 2021 when Cameroon will play host, the tournament will revert back to being played in January and February.

The tournament was moved to a June-July slot for last year’s edition in Egypt, which meant minimal disruption to the European domestic season. But plenty of Premier League managers will be left with problems this time next year, with several stars likely to leave for up to six weeks, including pre-tournament preparations.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp appears to face the biggest headache given that two of his star attacking players, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal, both featured in the African tournament last summer and are almost certain to be involved in the 2021 competition in some capacity.

High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire, while Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez should Algeria feature.

Klopp is critical of the decision to move the tournament dates, calling it “a catastrophe.” Salah and Mane’s absence would leave huge gaps in the Liverpool side. There is also Cameroon’s Joel Matip and Guinea’s Naby Keita to worry about. Matip has become solid at the back. Keita, too, would be a loss given his recent resurgence.

The Liverpool manager is upset because last year’s tournament was moved to mid-year to end a long-standing clash between clubs and countries over the release of their players. It was felt that common sense had prevailed when the tournament, which since 1960 had always been held during winter, reverted to summer. African players in western European clubs would no longer find themselves the target of competing claims for their attention every other season, which would benefit the players and their clubs and countries, and lead to fewer squabbles.

But then Cameroon changed its mind about hosting the tournament in summer next year, changing the dates from June and July to between Jan. 6 and Feb. 6. Why? The weather. It’s simply too hot in Cameroon in summer.

Organizers said they had agreed to the change after discussions with player and coach representatives.

But didn’t Cameroon know beforehand that its summers are too hot, too humid and right in the middle of its rainy season? That the country does not enjoy ideal conditions for football in summer could not have taken its organizers by complete surprise.

The situation serves as a vivid reminder of the botch-up of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host and FIFA decided that the World Cup, which is forever played in summer, would be moved to winter because of Qatar’s oppressive heat — but that decision came only after Qatar won the bid. That change, again, will mean a head-on clash with international tournaments and club competitions.

A football tournament simply cannot keep changing when it will be held as often as people change their socks. This is especially true for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is played every two years.

A major sports tournament must have fixed times. And, to be sure, its organizers should understand that you can’t please everybody. A championship’s times are bound to clash with some tournament or other. The African tournament, for example, will avoid a clash with FIFA’s revamped 24-team Club World Cup to be played in China in June and July 2021. But it cannot but conflict with European leagues. The important thing is to stay the course. Once a date is picked, it should be stuck to like glue.


Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
Updated 17 January 2021

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
  • The first of UFC Fight Island 3’s triple-header took place at the new Etihad Arena

DUBAI: UFC Fight Island returned to Abu Dhabi for a third edition with Max Holloway delivering a stunning 50-43, 50-43, 50-42 win over Calvin Kattar at the newly opened Etihad Arena.

The Hawaiian-born American, the world’s No1-ranked Featherweight, has now set his sight on retaining the championship from current holder Alexander Volkanovski.

Watching UFC President Dana White paid tribute to Holloway and his sixth-ranked opponent from the US, as well as the rest of the line-up, which for the first time on Fight Island took place in front of a live audience.

“I knew this card was going to be special,” he said. “Holloway is fun, and we've got to give Kattar some great credit. Khabib and I got together and he said to me ‘I want to see if someone really blows me away next weekend, then we'll see.’ Max looked incredible tonight. I don’t know if I’d call it his best performance, but he’s one of the all-time greats.”

Meanwhile, the delighted winner of the headline bout is already looking ahead.

“Thank you Abu Dhabi,” said Holloway.

“Thank you for keeping us safe and thank you to the fans for coming out. Make sure you tune in for UFC 257 next week. I'm staying on for it and it’s going to be great. Just blessed to have fans back, first card of the year, first event in Etihad Arena and I set some numbers. I had a chip on my shoulder tonight and I wanted to show that I’m one of the best boxers in MMA.”

Just before the main event of the night, Carlos Condit had defeated Matt Brown via a unanimous decision in their Welterweight bout.

“I feel good,” the 36-year-old American said after the win over his compatriot.

“I was stoked to get in there and finally face Matt. Standing across the cage from him was awesome. I had the hair standing up in the back of my neck, I was so stoked to get in there and get my hand raised. I’m very happy. I expected a little more back and forth on the feet, we ended up grappling quite a bit, but I’m not sad about the way that went because I got the better of those exchanges.”

In what was named the Performance of the Night, Welterweight Li Jianglang of China defeated Santiago Ponzinibbio of Argentina via a TKO after 4:25 of round one.

“I landed a clean shot when he was in a defenseless position, there was no need to go after him,” he said.

“If you are a true martial artist you don’t do that. I need to keep going now, show the fans what I’m capable of and go after the championship belt. Having fans back in the arena is a great step forward for 2021.”

Before that, Alessio Di Chirico, who claimed another Performance of the Night award, recorded a TKO win over Joaquin Buckley after 2:13 of round one in their Middleweight bout.

The main card had kicked off with Punahele Soriano of Hawaii delivering the first UFC knockout of 2021 over Middleweight opponent Dusko Todorovic of Sebia in round one.

“The world lies ahead for me,” he said.

“It feels really good to win this after a year off. It’s amazing being here, around the hotel at the pool. I was nervous coming into this fight undefeated, but I just had to keep focusing on winning. He was undefeated and is an amazing fighter so it was great to get it done. Getting the first finish of 2021 was amazing. I wanted to set the tone as the first on the main card and I did that. 

“This is my release, so it feels great to be back after a year off,” Sorianio added.

“Shows me I can get it done. I’m back to work on Monday and I’m looking forward. I envisioned going into work after winning a fight and fist pumping everyone - I can do that now.”

The Prelims had seen Bantamweight Joselyne Edwards overcome Wu Yanan with a unanimous decision; Carlos Felipe defeat over Justin Tafa via a split decision in their Heavyweight bout; Ramazan Emeev beat David Zawada; and Vanessa Melo edged a split decision over Sarah Moras in their Women Bantamweight clash.

The night had kicked off with the first ever fight at Etihad Arena, which saw Austin Lingo beat Jacob Kilbum via split decision in their Featherweight bout.

“It’s awesome to be the first winner in the Etihad Arena,” the winner said.

“Thanks for letting me fight here. I love having fans in the stands and hearing them cheering, it’s great, it blew my mind. I’ve seen my teammates fight with no crowd I’ve got in there with fans, it was great. I love Fight Island, I’ll come here to fight anytime. It’s great, the island, the venue, the hotel, all of it. 

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he added. “I want to fight again soon, in a month. I’m tired of waiting. I’ll come back to Abu Dhabi, I’ll fight anywhere.”

The triple-header Fight Island now moves on to its second night on Jan. 20, before wrapping with Conor McGregor’s highly-anticipated Lightweight clash with Dustin Poirier at UFC  257 on the 24th.

“The fans were awesome,” White added. “They had so much energy. It sounded like there was more than there actually was. They went crazy at certain points and it was just so much fun. Very, very cool to have fight fans back.”