AFCON 2019: Key facts about Africa’s biggest football tournament

With 24 teams participating, this is the largest AFCON yet and also the first to be played during Europe’s summer.

The 32nd edition of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is underway in Egypt.

In total 24 teams are participating in the tournament for the first time in history, making it the biggest yet, and the first to be played during Europe’s summer after the Confederation of African Football moved it from its traditional January/February slot.

The change means the tournament is no longer competing for viewers or players with the Premier League whose season ended in May.

The new time frame also means top players from Europe are available for their national teams.

AFCON is the main international association football competition in Africa. It was first held in 1957 and since 1968 has been held every two years. 

Here’s all you need to know about this year’s tournament: 

Battle of the hosts: Cameroon vs Egypt

  • Egypt is the host country of AFCON 2019, but that is not what was originally intended. Cameroon had been named host nation back in 2014.

  • But Cameroon was stripped of the right to host the tournament due to delays in preparations for the tournament and security concerns including the threat of violence near two venues.

  • The games are taking place in four Egyptian venues split between six stadiums. The hosting cities are Suez, Alexandria, and Ismailia with the final scheduled to take place in Cairo on July 19. The tournament started on June 21. 

  • This is not the first time AFCON has moved the tournament – it is the fourth successive change of host cities or game sites.
  • The 2013 finals were to be held in Libya but the security situation there meant they were moved to South Africa with Libya to host in 2017.

  • In 2015 Morocco had the hosting rights taken away after concerns that travelling fans might bring in the Ebola virus. Equatorial Guinea stepped in with just six months to prepare.

  • The 2017 finals were originally due to be held in South Africa, but they had swapped with Libya, which was then also unable to host for security reasons and Gabon took over.

Competing countries: 

  • Group A: Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
  • Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
  • Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
  • Group D: Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia
  • Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
  • Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau

Prize money

  • Champions: $4.5m
  • Runners-up: $2.5m
  • Semi-finalists: $2.0m
  • Quarter-finalists: $800,000
  • Groups/third: $575,000
  • Groups/fourth: $475,000

Total: $16.4 million

Favourite teams 

  • Egypt: Seven-time winners, the Pharaohs could reclaim the trophy they last lifted in 2010. They have the advantage of being the host country plus the talent of African player of the year Mohamed Salah.

  • Senegal: The team is one of the favourites to win because, like Egypt, they have the talent of a Liverpool attacker, Sadio Mane, who could lead the team to victory. They have never won the tournament before. 

  • Nigeria: The Super Eagles are also a favourite to win – it would be their fifth Africa Cup of Nations victory if they take the title.

  • Other teams that are expected to perform well and could potentially take the trophy home are Morocco, Algeria and Ghana. 

Tournament stars

There are many top names playing in AFCON 2019.

Liverpool’s Champions League winning forward Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and his teammate Sadio Mane (Senegal) are each seen as key players for their respective sides. 

“Winning with my country, which has never won the Africa Cup of Nations that would be magnificent,” Mane told France Football. 

The pair were joint top Premier League scorers this season.

Naby Keita is another Liverpool player in Guinea’s squad, but he is recovering from an injury. He started on the bench against Madagascar on Saturday but was introduced in minute 62. 

Algeria has Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez, while Morocco has Hakim Ziyech an Ajax Amsterdam player known among his fans as “the magician”.

“[AFCON] will be unbelievable and amazing, I think I don’t want to say it will be better than the premier league or not, but it will be something different and .. I think the emotion will be more,” Mahrez told Al Jazeera.

Kalidou Koulibaly, considered one of the best centre-backs in the world, is Senegal’s defender, while Ivory Coast’s Nicolas Pepe had a stellar season for Lille in France’s Ligue 1.

Mohamed Salah
Liverpool’s Champions League winning forward Mohamed Salah is playing for Egypt [File: Carl Recine/Reuters]

Tournament mascot 

  • The mascot is the child “Tut” inspired by Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun and a nod to the host country’s heritage and culture.

  • He sports Egypt’s home colours and the map of Africa is visible on his shirt.

Controversial moments so far 

  • Nigeria players protest unpaid bonuses:  Super Eagles players are demanding the country’s federation pay them a $10,000 match bonus that they had each been promised.

  • The squad was an hour late for training on Tuesday,

  • On Wednesday Seyi Akinwunm the Nigeria Football Federation’s acting president said in a statement it had received part of the money to pay the players their win bonus for beating Burundi 1-0 in their opening game on Saturday plus cash for other games.

  • Cameroon also complains over bonuses: Cameroon’s players had refused to board their flight for Egypt due to a dispute over bonuses last Thursday and arrived at the tournament a day late.
  • Cameroon’s Ministry of Sports said the players had each been paid a bonus of 20 million CFA francs ($34,938) while a source at Cameroon’s football federation said the players had asked for twice that. The players said in a statement they were not satisfied but would travel anyway.

  • Pay disputes before major competitions are not unusual for African football federations who often do not have sufficient resources to pay their players high sums.
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies