As broken exclusively by Pharaohs XI on Tuesday – the decision to expand the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) from 16 teams to 24 is now official – as is a move from the traditional January/February calendar to June/July.
More surprisingly, perhaps, is that the decision takes effect immediately, meaning AFCON 2019 will see 24 teams competing for the continent’s top prize in the months of June and July.
This presents a quandary of sorts for CAF, given that qualifiers for the 2019 edition – currently slated to be held in Cameroon – already began in March.
The format is designed to extract 15 teams (plus the host), for a total of 16. The 12 group winners qualify plus three of the top second-placed finishers.
The top two teams in each qualifying group will now likely earn a spot in the finals, though no official word has been made to that end.
Meanwhile, an idea to hold AFCON outside of the continent and invite non-African teams to compete appears to have been tabled for now.
Expansion also puts a strain on nations with marginal infrastructure, who have found it difficult enough hosting a 16-team tournament.
This likely reduces the number of nations that will be taken into consideration to host AFCON, unless co-hosting bids increase.
Cameroon has come under scruitany from CAF recently for being behind schedule with its AFCON 2019 preparations.
Egypt officially requested to step-in as hosts if the governing body decided Cameroon would not be ready.
Thursday’s moves also present climatic challenges for CAF. June and July are typically the rainy season in western and central Africa, while scorching heat prevails in the north.
Making AFCON a summer tournament is said to appease European clubs, who have long had an aversion with their African contingent leaving mid-season to play for their country. FIFA mandates that clubs allow players to leave if called-up.
Both expansion and the move to summer will open opportunities for increased AFCON revenues, according to the working committee who recommended the changes prior to official approval.