(MENAFN- Gulf Times) An Africa Cup of Nations with new dates and an expanded 24-team line-up will take centre stage this year in the continent, but the hosts have still to be decided.
CAF will announce next Wednesday whether Egypt or South Africa stage the June 15-July 13 tournament after Cameroon were dropped over preparation delays and security concerns.
The date switch from January/February should end club-versus-country rows after a growing number of African stars were reluctant to leave their European teams in mid-season.
Increasing the number of finalists from 16 has already had an impact with former whipping boys Madagascar and Mauritania qualifying for the first time.
Player of the Year
Egypt and Liverpool scoring sensation Mohamed Salah is set to retain the title in Dakar on January 8 with fellow Red Sadio Mane from Senegal his closest challenger.
If Salah continues to score consistently he could challenge the record of former Ivory Coast and Manchester City star Yaya Toure, who was voted number one four consecutive times.
Cup of Nations hosts
There is little to choose between Egypt and South Africa ahead of a fourth straight Cup of Nations to be held in a country not originally chosen as hosts.
But one marked difference would be the weather with Egypt experiencing northern hemisphere summer heat in June and July while South Africa shivers in the southern hemisphere winter.
Cup of Nations
Should Egypt be named hosts, the record seven-time African champions would be favoured to go one better than 2017 when they lost the final to Cameroon in Libreville.
Were South Africa to get the nod, the chances of Senegal and former champions Tunisia, Morocco and Nigeria lifting the trophy would increase.
Holders Esperance of Tunisia, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Al Ahly of Egypt have won seven of the last 10 finals and are among the favourites again.
Ahly, under new Uruguayan coach Martin Lasarte, will be desperate for a first success since 2013 having lost the last two finals to Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Esperance.
North African clubs have won 10 of the 15 finals in the second-tier competition and trophy-holders Raja Casablanca of Morocco head a powerful challenge from the region.
Few pundits are looking beyond Raja, Etoile Sahel and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia and Zamalek of Egypt as potential winners in the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.
History will be made when Esperance and Raja meet with Qatar becoming the first non-African venue for the annual match between the Champions League and Confederation Cup winners.
Traditionally staged at the home of the CAF champions, the switch has angered Esperance supporters, particularly as the club turns 100 on January 15.
Club World Cup
Esperance were the latest flops from Africa, crashing 3-0 to 2018 hosts Al Ain of the United Emirates and eventually finishing fifth in a seven-club field.
The change to an August-to-May CAF club season from this year should offer more preparation time and, hopefully, mean less embarrassment for African champions.
The first during March will be used for the final Cup of Nations qualifiers and there are a further three nine-day internationals windows in the second half of the year.
Will Africa consider following the lead of Europe and introduce a CAF Nations League? It would be an improvement on African riendlies often shunned by Europe-based stars.
Egypt will host an eight-nation tournament during November with three places at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games up for grabs.
Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Egypt qualified for the previous two African tournaments and they have been kept apart in the three-round elimination competition.
No details have been announced regarding qualifying for the sixth edition of this unique international football competition restricted to those playing in their country of birth. Ethiopia will host the 2020 finals — the first time the east African country has staged a CAF competition since the 1976 Cup of Nations.
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