Africa Cup of Nations 2023 Rescheduled - What You Need to Know
You’ve probably already heard the collective groan from football executives based in Europe, but here’s the newsflash that sent transfer plans everywhere into disarray for the upcoming season: the Africa Cup of Nations has been rescheduled, again.
Originally slated to take place in June/July 2023, weather concerns have forced organizers to change dates, much to the chagrin of European clubs. Instead of taking place during the off-season, megastars like Mo Salah and Thomas Partey will miss key matches for Liverpool and Arsenal mid-season.
In 2017, AFCON officially changed its calendar to coincide with the European offseason, but it looks increasingly likely that climatic concerns will continue to cause havoc on the European season.
Just like the last edition, AFCON 2023 will (confusingly) take place between Saturday, 13 January and Sunday, 11 February 2024. If you’re a Premier League fan, that equates to potentially five very excruciating game weeks (not to mention additional cup competition matches).
How AFCON Affects Fans
So what does this mean for your run-of-the-mill sports fan? For starters, if you support a European club, just hope there’s enough cover for the key January/February dates. With the title race going right to the wire in England last season, missing players like Elneny and Partey could prove crucial to Arsenal, especially considering they lack Manchester City’s squad depth.
For Fantasy Football enthusiasts, plan your teams carefully. You don’t necessarily want to use your Wildcard just to account for AFCON; it could cost you the title. Salah may be guaranteed goals, but is it worth picking him if you’re going to have to bench him for up to five game weeks?
Similarly, there are also sports betting options for those who like to place a bet on the footie, whether you’re betting on a match from South Africa or at your local sportsbook in North London, you will need to keep a close watch on the players called up, whether anyone gets injured while away with their national teams, and the form players are showing during the tournament. It changes everything.
Premier League: Liverpool Title Hopes Gone?
Jurgen Klopp probably put his head in his hands when he heard the news of the AFCON calendar change. With the Egyptian team going unbeaten in their qualifiers for the tournament, they have a legitimate chance of getting to the final.
Great for Egypt, but not so great for Liverpool. In that crucial January to February bracket, LFC has key matches against both Chelsea and Arsenal. Last year’s title race had 5 points in it. Lose those two matches, and there goes your league.
Salah’s impact on Liverpool cannot be underestimated. He was good for 30 goals last season, and there’s no reason to think he’s going to slow down now. He’s still at the peak of his powers and one of the best players to play for the Kop.
But it’s not just about the title. Nottingham Forest will likely be fighting against relegation, and they have six African players on their books. There will be some squeaky bum time in the executive box next January, that’s for sure.
Ivory Coast’s Rainy Season
Let’s delve a little deeper into why the tournament organizers shifted the original dates. It has everything to do with Ivory Coast’s rainy season, which experiences its zenith in June and July, right when the tournament was meant to take place.
Of course, what’s peculiar in this case is that this is nothing new. The country has seen rainy seasons during this period for many years, but the CAF Secretary-General dodged questions about the tardy postponement.
However, what he did say is that CAF does not plan to revert back to January tournaments permanently. It’s likely that organizers will have to review dates on a case-by-case basis, considering the continent has distinct weather patterns depending on the location.
Some critics say that this is a way to circumvent disputes with European clubs, who have long pushed for changes to the tournament schedule. With most leagues right in the middle of their respective domestic seasons, an off-season tournament is far more appealing. But if it always gets changed regardless, does the official tournament period really matter?
Unfair Focus on Europe?
Many critics say that the press is explicitly Eurocentric, focusing on how AFCON affects European clubs and their results, rather than covering the African tournament for its own merits.
For instance, would the Euros or the World Cup ever take second billing to domestic tournaments? Hint: It’s a rhetorical question. Indeed, perhaps the EPL should consider adding a mid-season break, like in the Netherlands or Germany.
Ultimately, AFCON is just as important as the European Championships or the Copa America. England fans had a summer of ‘It’s Coming Home’ before coming up with a penalty short; fans of African football should rightfully be given the same opportunity.