Africa Cup of Nations

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African soccer considers major shakeup for Cup of Nations

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RABAT, Morocco (AP) African soccer’s biggest tournament could be moved from the start of the year to the European summer months of June and July, with the number of teams being increased from 16 to 24.

The proposals for the future of the African Cup of Nations were made at a two-day meeting Tuesday and Wednesday in Rabat, Morocco, hosted by the Confederation of African Football. The changes appear to have widespread support.

New CAF president Ahmad, who was elected in March to replace long-standing leader Issa Hayatou, promised a review of the Cup of Nations in his election campaign.

The move from January-February to June-July would be especially important for CAF’s flagship tournament – its major money earner – which has been troubled for years by the fact that it clashes with a crucial time for European leagues.

That’s led to club vs. country dilemmas for many of Africa’s Europe-based players, underlined at this year’s Cup of Nations in Gabon when seven of Cameroon’s top players decided to miss the three-week tournament to remain with their clubs.

The increase from 16 to 24 teams would follow the lead of the European Championship, which increased from 16 to 24 teams in 2016, and the World Cup, which will go to 48 teams from 2026. The reasoning behind the expansion for the African Cup is simple: More teams mean more games, and more television and marketing revenue for CAF.

The proposals, made at the meeting of leading soccer figures from across Africa, would need to be formally approved by CAF’s executive committee. The executive committee is expected to meet before CAF’s special general assembly is held in Rabat on Friday.

Three former champs lose in African Cup qualifying’s final round

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Three former champions lost at home at the start of the final round of qualifying for the 2019 African Cup of Nations on Saturday, with Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Zambia all slipping up.

Ivory Coast was beaten by Guinea 3-2 after leading 1-0 and 2-1, Nigeria lost to South Africa 2-0, and Zambia was upset by Mozambique 1-0.

Cameroon, the African champion and host of the next Cup of Nations in 2019, beat Morocco 1-0 with a goal by striker Vincent Aboubakar, the man who scored the winner for Cameroon in this year’s Cup of Nations final.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up versus Mexico? ]

Cameroon has its place at the 2019 tournament guaranteed as host but will still take part in the qualifying competition and collect points from games.

Qualifying comes down to 12 groups of four teams. The group winners and three best second-place teams qualify alongside the host team. If Cameroon wins its group, the second-place team can qualify. If Cameroon finishes second in its group, only the winner qualifies.

Ivory Coast, African champion in 2015, fell to a late winner from Guinea’s Naby Keita after Seydou Doumbia twice gave the Ivorians the lead in Abidjan.

South Africa enjoyed immediate success under new coach Stuart Baxter as he oversaw Bafana Bafana’s first ever competitive win over three-time African champion Nigeria. Second-half goals by Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau took South Africa to its surprise win in the southern city of Uyo after Nigeria blew a number of good chances in the first 45.

Zambia, African Cup winner in 2012, was undone late on when Stanley Ratifo scored for Mozambique with a shot from a tight angle in the 90th minute.

Madagascar, Malawi, Burundi, Mali, Libya, Sierra Leone, Congo, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau also made winning starts to the group stage.

[ MORE: USMNT-Mexico preview ]

Congo won the battle with neighboring Republic of Congo after a double from Cedric Bakambu.

Two of Burkina Faso’s stars of their run to the semifinals at this year’s Cup of Nations were on target in a 3-1 win over Angola as Aristide Bance scored twice and Bertrand Traore sealed victory.

Uganda’s qualifier in Cape Verde was postponed until Sunday after the Ugandan squad was stranded in Senegal because of technical problems with its airplane.

Ghana and Algeria start their final group campaigns on Sunday, and Tunisia hosts Egypt, the losing finalist at this year’s African Cup.

Nyom claims no regrets at missing Cameroon AFCON title run

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Cameroon has five Africa Cup of Nations titles after beating Egypt 2-1 earlier this week, and the men’s national team returned home to a raucous crowd of support Tuesday.

What a difference a month makes.

Before the tournament, Cameroon was rife with controversy as several big name players like Liverpool’s Joel Matip and West Bromwich Albion’s Allan Nyom said, “No” to call-ups.

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Well, sort of. Nyom says he later changed his tune and was rejected by coach Hugo Broos. After the tournament ended, Broos said players were probably upset they didn’t seize the opportunity.

Nyom laughed that sentiment off, saying his club future was more important to him. From the BBC:

“It’s true, at first I didn’t want to go, but afterwards I changed my mind. But he knew that and he knows what he told me, so I have no worries, no regrets.

“If before the tournament they had told me ‘Cameroon is going to win and you are not part of the squad’, I don’t mind because I’m happy I’m playing for my club – it’s much more important for me.”

Cameroon’s fifth AFCON title moves them to within two of runners-up Egypt, who boasts the most titles in history. It’s hard to believe Nyom isn’t a little bitter at not being a national hero, but we’ll take him at his word for now.

El Hadary the hero, Salah scores beauty; Egypt advances to AFCON Final

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Burkina Faso finally found a way to beat Essam El Hadary, but the Egyptian goalkeeper got the last laugh.

The 44-year-old Egypt goalkeeper with 152 caps had not allowed a goal in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations before conceding in regulation of the 1-1 semifinal on Wednesday in Gabon.

But El Hadary snared Burkina Faso’s final penalty to give Egypt a 4-3 edge in penalty kicks.

Aristide Bance’s finish of a wonderful 73rd minute team goal for Burkina Faso sent the game to extra time after Mohamed Salah scored a gorgeous opener for Egypt in the 66th.

Here are both:

El Hadary has been on four AFCON winners for Egypt (1998, 2006, 2008, 2010) and could make it five if Egypt can win the final. The Pharoahs face the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Ghana and Cameroon on Sunday in Libreville.

AFCON semis: Familiar faces vie for title spots

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Four teams with recent experience in AFCON finals remain as the semifinals of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations hit the stage Wednesday and Thursday.

The last two runners-up (Burkina Faso and Ghana) remain alive, as do a pair of nations who’ve won multiple tournaments in the 21st century.

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An odd fun fact: only one player in this year’s AFCON has more than two goals. It’s DR Congo star Junior Kabananga.

Burkina Faso vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday

Burkina Faso boss Paulo Duarte calls Jose Mourinho a “father figure”, and he’ll need some extraordinary tactics to slow down Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Elneny, and Egypt.

Actually, it’ll be even more about finding a way through the Egyptian back line, which is yet to allow a goal in the tournament. Granted Burkina Faso was in a final as recently as 2013, but Egypt will be expected to reach a fourth final since their 3-peat started with a title in 2006.

Cameroon vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. EDT Thursday

It’s hard to believe here in the United States, where Ghana has been a World Cup enemy of the United States, but the Black Stars have been snake bit in this competition.

Ghana has not won AFCON since 1982, reaching only two finals including the 2015 edition that ended 9-8 in penalties to the Ivory Coast. Cameroon is bidding to make its first final since 2008, having won the tournament in 2000 and 2002.

The winner of this one is 90 minutes away from breaking a tie, with each other, for the second-most AFCON crowns in history. Egypt leads the way with seven, while Cameroon and Ghana have four.