Why AFCON is played in January

Of the 54 African countries, 24 qualified for this year’s African Cup of Nations. The 24 countries have been separated into six groups.

The first game of the group stage will be played on Saturday night, with hosts Ivory Coast taking Guinea-Bissau. The final game of the group stage is set to be played on 24th January.

Following the respective round of 16 matches as well as the quarter-finals, semi-finals and match for third place, the finals will be held on 11 February, where the best African team will be crowned.

What is AFCON and who will play?

AFCON – The Africa Cup of Nations – is an international competition organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The tournament takes place every two years, when  fans of European football mourn the short departure of their favourite football stars.

Notable players from Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and Saudi Pro League teams will bid club football a temporary goodbye as they prepare to represent their nations at AFCON.

Here are some of the biggest names leaving Europe to represent their countries for this year’s AFCON:

  1. Mohamed Salah – Liverpool & Egypt
  2. Nicolas Jackson – Chelsea & Senegal
  3. Victor Osimhen – Napoli & Nigeria
  4. Sadio ManĂ© – Al-Nassr & Senegal
  5. Riyad Mahrez – Al-Ahli & Algeria
  6. Achraf Hakimi – Paris Saint-Germain & Morocco
  7. Iñaki Williams – Athletic Bilbao & Ghana
  8. Serhou Guirassy – VfB Stuttgart & Guinea
  9. AndrĂ© Onana – Manchester United & Cameroon

Why is AFCON played in January instead of the off-season like the World Cup?

The Africa Cup of Nations has traditionally lit up the football calendar in January and February, and there is a good reason behind the timing. At this time of the year, it is the dry season in most parts of Africa. The weather plays a significant role, as the dry conditions create ideal pitches for the beautiful game, compared to the rainy season.

While the timing has brought us memorable moments and thrilling matches in both the actual tournament and affected leagues, there have been discussions about potential changes. There has always been a desire to find a sweet spot that accommodates both the rich history of AFCON in its current months, whilst still accommodating to world football.

Will there be AFCON held during summer in the future?

The next AFCON which will be held in Morocco will take place in the summer. As Morocco lies in the Northern Hemisphere, and therefore June-July will be summer in the region. This will mark the second time AFCON will be played in the Nothern Hemisphere’s summer. The first time was in 2019 when Egypt hosted the tournament.

Stakeholders of European football will be happy to hear that the next AFCON will not lead to any scheduling conflicts with European club teams and competitions.

What big stories have come out about AFCON so far?

Recently crowned as the African Player of the Year, Victor Osimhen shoulders the weight of two ambitions as he gears up for the Africa Cup of Nations. Beyond the pressure of bringing Nigeria back to glory, Osimhen faces the added challenge of standing in the way of Salah’s bid for AFCON victory. Salah, hailed as Africa’s current best football player, has set his sights on the continental title, putting immense pressure on Osimhen.

Meanwhile, in the Senegal camp, Chelsea striker Nicolas Jackson finds himself under a different kind of spotlight. Although still relatively new to the football scene, Jackson has swiftly become a well-rounded striker for Chelsea. Despite some obvious struggles with finishing, he has managed to equal the goal tally of Chelsea’s highest goal scorer in the 22/23 season.

In a parallel narrative, the spotlight shifts to AndrĂ© Onana, the Manchester United goalkeeper. Amidst a rocky first season with the club, Onana’s decision to delay his departure for AFCON adds a unique twist. Opting to stay at Old Trafford and missing Cameroon’s first match of the tournament, Onana has created an unexpected scenario. The player, the club, and the national team have agreed on having Onana play for Manchester United on Sunday, January 14, in the evening UK time. He will then join the Cameroon national team for the rest of their AFCON campaign. This move intensifies the pressure on Onana as he brightens the spotlight that has been on him lately.

As we eagerly follow Victor Osimhen’s pursuit of glory, Nicolas Jackson’s budding career, and AndrĂ© Onana’s shocking decision, the AFCON stage is set for a thrilling clash of talents and ambitions, with Mohamed Salah adding an extra layer of intensity in his quest for continental victory.

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