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

  • 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.


Brighton boost hopes of Premier League survival

Updated 04 July 2020

Brighton boost hopes of Premier League survival

  • Saturday’s result leaves Norwich in grave danger of relegation

LONDON: Norwich manager Daniel Farke conceded his side are heading for relegation after Leandro Trossard fired Brighton to a 1-0 win at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Trossard netted in the first half to move Brighton nine points clear of the relegation zone before the bulk of the weekend’s matches.

Brighton’s second win in four games since the restart puts them in position beat the drop, but the picture is much bleaker for Norwich.

With five matches left, Norwich are seven points from safety after losing all five games following the coronavirus hiatus.

Farke knows Norwich’s chances of avoiding an immediate return to the Championship are almost over, especially with games against Chelsea and Manchester City still to come.

“It was more or less our last chance to get back in the mix and we are disappointed,” he said.

“The story of our game was the story of our season, we didn’t find the cutting edge and we then make a big mistake.

“After a few losses, we don’t have the right to make any fighting messages or to make any unrealistic claims.

“We are not naive, let’s show our pride. It is important we learn for the future. I will pick them up.”

Farke dropped Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell, even though the pair had scored 68 percent of his team’s goals this season.

The move was criticized by some Norwich fans, but Finland forward Pukki, who had netted 11 times this term, was without a goal in 10 games dating back to January.

Norwich started brightly with their changed lineup and Onel Hernandez fired over from long-range after an incisive break.

But Brighton wrestled back control and had a penalty appeal turned down by VAR when Trossard tumbled under pressure.

Brighton made the most of their dominant spell as Trossard struck in the 25th minute.

Aaron Mooy whipped over a low cross from the right and Trossard made a perfectly timed run to the near post, where the Belgian midfielder slotted past Tim Krul for his fourth goal of the season.

Norwich had lost all 19 Premier League games this season in which they have conceded first.

The y were the only team in the top-flight yet to pick up a point from a losing position and their frustration mounted as Hernandez miscued wide.

Brighton almost put the came beyond their reach when Mooy’s free-kick hit team-mate Dan Burn and deflected narrowly wide.

Norwich’s Josip Drmic shot straight at Mat Ryan from a good position before Farke sent on Pukki and Cantwell with 23 minutes left.

There was no lack of effort from Norwich, but their luck was out in stoppage-time when Adam Idah glanced a header against the inside of the far post and Brighton cleared the danger.