Excitement is mounting among Africa's soccer-mad fans as the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cairo in June. The format has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams, making this year's version more truly representative of the continent. Michael Renouf looks forward to the thrills and spills of what promises to be one of the best tournaments in years.
It's finally here--the 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will kick off on 21 June when hosts Egypt face Zimbabwe in the Cairo International Stadium. More than 70,000 fans will have the chance to attend the opening game, in the first AFCON to be held during the months of June and July.
The continental tournament will come to an end in the same stadium on 19 July with the final, the 52nd game of the competition, when a new champion of Africa will be crowned for the 32nd time.
The Africa Cup of Nations has come a long way since it was first held over 60 years ago in 1957, when the majority of African countries were still under colonial rule.
That first tournament, held in Sudan, had only four entrants and involved a total of just two games. As well as the hosts, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa made up the numbers but because of South Africa's insistence on picking only white players due to their Apartheid policy, they were soon disqualified. This gave Ethiopia a bye to the final where they succumbed by a score of 4-0 to give this year's host the first of their record-breaking seven titles.
On that occasion, as for this year's edition, the original host nation was substituted--but back then it was moved from rather than to Egypt because of the Suez Canal crisis.
Until November last year, travelling fans were making plans to visit Cameroon. Five-time African champions, Cameroon also lit up the 1990 World Cup in Italy with their stunning run to the quarter finals, where they only fell 3-2 after extra time to a Gary Lineker-inspired England. But the Indomitable Lions were stripped of host status by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) due to building delays and security fears.
In January, Egypt won the vote 16-1 (with 1 abstention) against South Africa for the right to host the tournament for a fifth time--another record. As well as the location, the dates were also changed; the tournament was originally planned to run from 15 June to 13 July, but has been rescheduled due to Ramadan.
Six stadiums from four different cities have been chosen for the action. In Cairo the...