Monday, 30 March 2020

Date juggling for African football amid virus pandemic

African football date-juggling looms amid virus pandemic

The May semifinals and finals of the two annual African club competitions are likely to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the continent.

After two-leg semifinals in the competitions between 1 and 10 May, the Champions League final is set for 29 May 29 Douala, five days after Rabat hosts the Confederation Cup title decider.

But the postponement of both competitions seems inevitable as the full impact of the Covid-19 disease is still to be felt in the continent with the most fragile public health systems.

Already, two rounds of 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and the African Nations Championship in Cameroon have been postponed due to the killer Covid-19 disease.

Here, we consider the date-juggling options in the major African national team and club competitions:


Home and away preliminary round ties last September reduced the number of contenders from 54 to 40 for five places at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Next comes 10 six-matchday groups between 5 October 2020, and 12 October 2021, with the table-toppers paired in five two-leg showdowns to decide who represents Africa.

Group dates this October and November may have to accommodate delayed 2021 Cup of Nations qualifiers instead, but there are sufficient international windows next year to catch up.


Qualifiers for the 24-nation tournament in Cameroon from 9 January to 6 February 2021 have fallen two rounds behind after fixtures scheduled for this month were cancelled.

It is hard to imagine the single round set for 1-9 June taking place and there must also be doubts about matches planned for 31 August - 8 September.

Caf will hope they can stage double matchdays between 5-13 October and 9-17 November – dates currently allocated to World Cup group games – and complete qualifying.


The 4-25 April tournament in Cameroon, which is restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth, has been postponed due to the coronavirus.

With no foreign-based stars involved, the tournament does not have to fit into a Fifa international window, creating flexibility when it comes to finding new dates.

Apart from the football, the Nations Championship offers Cameroon an opportunity to test whether they are ready for a much more demanding task – staging the 2021 Cup of Nations.


The semifinals pit Casablanca clubs Raja and Wydad against Cairo outfits Zamalek and Al Ahly respectively, raising the possibility of a first final between clubs from the same country.

While a 29 May conclusion seems unlikely, the matches can be staged until 6 September, with the last-32 first legs of the 2020-21 season scheduled to kick off five days later.

The competition could also be shortened by turning the semifinals into single matches in Douala, the Cameroon port city chosen to host the final.


The semifinals in the African equivalent of the Uefa Europa League will see Pyramids of Egypt meet Horoya of Guinea and Renaissance Berkane face fellow Moroccans Hassania Agadir.

Like the Champions League, the semifinals are due to be home-and-away affairs, followed by a single-match final in Rabat, giving Berkane or Agadir a distinct advantage.

Caf will likely seek new dates, and possibly reduce the semifinals to single matches, between June and 6 September, five days before the 2020-21 season gets into full swing.


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