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Turmoil returns for African football’s showpiece  

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- In just over two decades, Confederation of African Football (CAF) has made six last-minute changes of host in its premier competition, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

Cameroon, who lost the rights to stage the 2019 edition, the first to be staged in July away from the traditional January period, becomes the seventh to be stripped of the organizational honor.

CAF is yet to make a decision on where the 2019 showpiece will be held. Morocco and South Africa are touted to host the biennial championship with CAF having approached the latter to host the event which will be expanded to 24 teams for the first time ever.

“This decision, without appeal, will mean that CAF will now initiate an open and urgent call for new host country bids to ensure AFCON 2019 takes place next summer. CAF will ensure that a new host is in place by Dec. 31, 2018, and it will communicate openly and transparently on the process and subsequent decision,” CAF said in a statement.

In 1996, all eyes were on Kenya to return to the Africa Cup of Nations albeit as hosts. But they lost the hosting rights because the country was not ready. Playing facilities were found to be below standard.

A similar scenario was experienced in January, when Morocco was nominated to replace Kenya in hosting the 2018 African Nations Championships, a tournament for only local based players plying their trade in their country of birth.

Libya lost the host rights to Gabon for the 2017 edition of the tournament as civil unrest led to delay in construction of new stadiums, and Gabon went on to host the 16-team tournament that was won by Cameroon who beat Egypt 2-1 in the final.

Back in 2000 Zimbabwe’s spirited efforts to convince CAF to stage the tournament were thwarted. Zimbabwe lost the finals because of the slow pace of construction of new stadiums as well as the lack of financial guarantees from the government.



Kenya advance to Africa Nations Cup finals as CAF disqualifies Sierra Leone

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya’s long wait to return to the Africa Nations Cup (AFCON) ended after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) confirmed on Monday the disqualification of Sierra Leone.

Nathalie Rabe, director of communications for CAF, told Kenyan media that after the extraordinary executive committee meeting in Accra, Ghana on Friday, it was unanimously passed that Sierra Leone is disqualified from the qualification campaign.

Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone are the four teams making Group F and only the best two will qualify for the AFCON 2019 finals, which will be held in June.

“The CAF executive committee decided that Sierra Leone is disqualified,” Rabe said in Nairobi. “So Group F is composed of three teams - Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya.”

With the disqualification of Sierra Leone, which had been punished by world football governing body FIFA over government interference in its football administration, all the points relating to the matches with the West African side in Group F will be forfeited.

This indeed works in advantage of Kenya, who will lose zero points having been beaten 2-1 by Sierra Leone in June last year. However, Ethiopia, who had beaten Sierra Leone will miss the three points.

Ghana was yet to play Sierra Leone by the time they were being banned by FIFA in June. This leaves Kenya leading the group with seven points, Ghana second with six and Ethiopia is bottom with one point having played all their four matches.

Kenya will play Ghana in Accra in March in their last qualifying game, the outcome of which will not affect the top two teams heading to the finals.

The 2019 Africa Nations Cup will be played in a venue yet to be decided by CAF after they stripped Cameroon the host rights last week. CAF has promised to have an alternative host by Dec. 31.

The finals, which will be played from June 15 to July 11, witness 24 teams up from 16 compete for the first time.

Kenya last competed in the Africa Nations Cup finals in Tunisia in 2014, led by coach Jacob Mulee and were eliminated after the first round matches.

However, new coach Sebastian Migne said they seek to stay longer in the tournament this time.

“We want to make an impact at AFCON, not just fill up the numbers. Kenya has a quality squad and we hope to build on this team for future competitions,” said Migne.

Madagascar was the first team to book their spot at the tournament finals, the first achievement ever in the country’s football history. Others through so far are Senegal, Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda, Mali, Morocco, Ghana and Kenya.


Ghana have secured qualification to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

By Alex Osei-Boateng ACCRA Ghana (Xinhua) -- Ghana have secured qualification to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) following the decision of the Confederation of African Football(CAF) in Accra on Friday to disqualify Sierra Leone as a result of the ban placed on the West African nation by FIFA due to political interference.

“Sierra Leone is disqualified from the qualifiers and all its matches are annulled,” CAF said in a release on Monday.

Following the decision, Kenya tops the group with seven points followed by Ghana who has six points from three games.

Both the Harambee Stars of Kenya and Ghana’s Black Stars qualify for the 16-nation competition.

Ethiopia are placed third with a paltry one point from four games.

The CAF in October called off Ghana’s double-header AFCON qualifiers against Sierra Leone after its failure to meet FIFA’s deadline to reinstate the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) president Isha Johansen and general secretary Christopher Kamara.

The SLFA was consequently banned by FIFA for government interference.

The 2019 AFCON, with its new 24-team format, will be held from June 15 to July 13 at a venue yet to be announced by CAF after it stripped Cameroon of the hosting rights for failing to meet a number of compliance conditions.

This decision, without appeal, will mean that CAF will now initiate an open and urgent call for new host country bids to ensure AFCON 2019 takes place next summer.


Sudan’s Al Merreikh vow to beat Uganda’s Vipers in Champions League

KAMPALA Uganda (Xinhua) -- Sudan Premier League champions, Al Merreikh are gearing up to face Uganda’s Vipers SC in Wednesday’s second leg of a Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League tie.

“We are here to mean business and win away from home. Vipers were lucky to score a late goal in Khartoum,” Tag Abdel, who scored one of Al Merreikh’s goals in the first leg told Xinhua on Monday.

The Uganda Premier League champions will host the Sudanese side at their St. Mary’s Stadium, Kitende. And the Sudanese team arrived in Uganda early on Saturday.

Al Merreikh lost the first leg 2-1 in the Sudan capital Khartoum last week.

Striker Bakri Al-Madina told Xinhua that although they respect the Ugandan team, they have what it takes to win and qualify for the next stage.

Vipers SC’s head coach, Javier Martinez Espinosa told Xinhua that they have tried to correct the mistakes and want to make home advantage count on Wednesday.

“We have to be a little tight in defending and also take our chances at goal. We shall need to go all out and get quick goals and also rely a lot on home support to push us to win,” added Espinosa, who joined the club three months ago.


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