On Sunday January 9th, the first major football tournament of the year, the Africa Cup of Nations 2021, kicks off. The tournament begins on January 9th and ends on February 6th. The host of the esteemed competition will be Cameroon, a five-time champion. The first game will see a battle between the hosts and Burkina Faso. A number of people will wonder why a competition with the year 2021 in its title is being played in 2022. It is a slightly complicated matter. The Africa Cup of Nations 2021 was supposed to be played in June 2021. Unfortunately, Cameroon experiences heavy rains in summer which led to the tournament being rescheduled to January 2021. Another delay presented itself in the form of a Covid-19 surge, meaning the tournament was moved again to January 2022. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) faced fierce criticism from several quarters for their timing. A few weeks before the start of the competition, a rumor circulated that the tournament might be postponed due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Lucky for fans, this rumor does not seem to be true.
The tournament will include 24 participants for the second time, the first being the 2019 competition. The main contenders will be Algeria, Egypt, Senegal, and Cameroon. Algeria has not suffered a defeat in 34 games and is creatively led by the dribbling artist, Riyad Mahrez. Egypt boasts the talent of arguably the best footballer in the world, Mohamed Salah. Senegal has been the highest ranked African footballing nation for 3 years. Cameroon will have home ground advantage to boost their ambitions. All of these nations are represented by individuals who make up formidable teams. The exciting element of these kinds of tournaments is their unpredictability, anything can happen.
Like with everything these days, the tournament faced some criticism. Some European clubs were unhappy about releasing their players for the tournament. A notable example being the English football club, Watford. Nigeria called up Watford player Emmanuel Dennis for the tournament but his club refused to release him. The manager of the club, Claudio Ranieri, claimed that the Nigeria Football Association had made a request for the player after the applicable deadline had passed. This has caused some disappointment and anger because playing for one’s country is considered to be one of the highest honors. Some critics wanted the tournament to be postponed because of Covid-19 concerns but that was going to be very difficult. This tournament had to be played. An issue that some parties have raised as a concern is the tensions that exist between the Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians, with the former raising the point that they are not treated as well as the latter. Security measures have been taken in the relevant areas and government officials have promised safety for everyone.
As mentioned before, the competition is being hosted in Cameroon. The all-time top goal scorer, Samuel Eto’o hails from the country. He is a football legend, having made a stellar career for himself in Europe as well as for his national team. He recently became the President of the Cameroon Football Federation. The official ball for the tournament is the Umbro Toghu. The Toghu is an outfit of many colors, which is embroidered and was initially meant for royalty. It is now popular and common in Cameroon. The next tournament is in 2023 and will be in Ivory Coast. We look forward to that edition but for now, all eyes will be on Cameroon.