African football chief Patrice Motsepe has praised 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN) hosts Algeria ahead of qualifying for the 18-team tournament, which kicks off on Friday.
On a visit to the country, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) president told the media that he “really liked” what he saw in Algiers.
“I inspected the infrastructure in the capital and was impressed. I will be back in September for the finals draw and also attend the opening match, the semi-finals and the final.”
Algeria, hosting a CAF tournament for the first time since the 1990 Cup of Nations (AFCON), are under pressure to have stadiums, training facilities, accommodation and other infrastructure ready in time.
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Pre-tournament delays are common in Africa, most recently in Cameroon, who fell so far behind with preparations for the 2019 AFCON that it had to be belatedly switched to Egypt.
The central African country staged the following edition in 2022, but even three years later there was a last-minute scramble to complete preparations.
Two venues in Algiers and one each in Annaba, Constantine and Oran will stage a unique national team competition as it is restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth.
But despite the absence of Europe-based stars like Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, FIFA categorises CHÁN matches as full internationals and they count toward national team rankings.
The tournament in Algeria, postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, has also been subjected to a change of dates with the kick-off put back five days to January 13, 2023.
It will also be the first time a CAF competition has been planned with different size groups — three will consist of four teams and two will have only three teams.
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– Tunisia banned –
Two teams will qualify for the quarter-finals from each of the three larger sections but only one from each of the two smaller ones.
Apart from automatic qualifiers Algeria, defending champions Morocco and former winners Libya have also secured places because they are the only north African entrants in a regional draw.
Tunisia, another country that has lifted the trophy, are barred having withdrawn from the 2020 edition after qualifying, citing domestic fixture congestion.
Egypt have entered only once, for 2018 qualifying, saying clubs have too many national and international commitments to release players for each CHÁN.
With three places at the tournament already filled, 42 nations will compete for 15 other slots with the first two-leg qualifying round scheduled for July and the second for late August and early September.
The process begins this weekend with 12 first legs and Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Zambia are among the countries who will be in action.
Senegal are away to Liberia, a team they eliminated in 2020 qualifying, while twice runners-up Ghana host Benin, one of 23 nations that have never qualified for the finals.
South Africa hope to improve on a dismal record of only one qualification from five attempts, starting with a match in the Comoros.
Zambia are buoyant before a journey to Mozambique having won the annual southern Africa championship last weekend by edging Namibia 1-0 in the final in Durban.
No team will crave victory more than Eswatini, who are away to Botswana having failed to win any of 16 previous qualifiers.
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