Let the 2019 AFCON games in Egypt begin!Thomas Kwenaite
The 2019 African Nations Cup will hopefully get underway in the city that gave the world the majestic Pyramids of Giza when the hosts Egypt open the jamboree against the Warriors of Zimbabwe in Cairo tonight.
Zimbabwe had on Thursday refused to honor a final training session to fine tune their preparations, allegedly because they had not been paid promised bonus and appearance fee incentives by their native Football federation.
The previous day, Angola cancelled their friendly game against South Africa, allegedly because they are not adequately prepared, but sources indicated that the players had gone on strike, refusing to train or take part in any activity unless the federation honored their undertaking regarding appearance fees.
On the same day, the Cameroon Federation was also deep in negotiations with their players who were allegedly also threatening not to take part in the tournament because their native federations have also not fulfilled their financial obligations.
Drama, uncertainty, scandals, maladministration, allegations of corruption, malfeasance and plain chaos has preceded the start of Africa’s premier competition since it was announced that Cameroon, and not Egypt, would host the biennial tournament.
Cameroon were stripped of the right to host this tournament in early January, and it was awarded to Egypt, because the land of the Indomitable Lions would, according to CAF, not be ready to host a tournament that had its participants increased for the first time from 16 to 24.
CAF leadership has lurched from one crisis to another. But the most damaging has been when Esperance played Wydad Casablanca in the second leg of the African Champions League in Tunis, after the first leg tie had ended 1-1 in Morocco.
Late in the second half, the visitors levelled but the referee disallowed their effort. They demanded to satisfy themselves through the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system, which it turned out was malfunctioning or was not functional on the day.
When they could not get their way, Wydad walked off the field and the referee rightfully awarded the game to Esperance. But horror of horrors, CAF took a bizarre decision to order a replay, even though their own rules state clearly that a team that walk off the field before the referee had blown the final whistle, shall forfeit the match.
Naturally, Esperance are not impressed and they have lodged an appeal with the Court of Appeal in Sport. And as CAF tried to placate an incredulous public, their head honcho Ahmad Ahmad was called by French police for questioning.
It is alleged that Ahmad was questioned about dubious payments allegedly earmarked for the Liberian Football Association but paid to a bank account somewhere in Eastern Europe as well as suspicious contracts awarded to a French steel company for the supply of sport equipment.
It was at this stage, that news filtered through that FIFA would for the first time in the history of its existence, second their Secretary General to run the affairs of the African confederation and launch an investigation into their finances as well.
Amid all these dark clouds hovering menacingly over the African game, one hopes that when the referee blows the whistle for the start of the tournament tonight, both Zimbabwe and Egypt will dish out the kind of football that will make us forget the shenanigans of the past six months.
On paper it looks like a mismatch with experts all tipping the hosts to collect easy points against the visitors from across the Zambezi River, but watch out for Sunday Chidzambwa’s team that plays without fear for anyone.
And if Egypt believes that they have Mo Salah and will naturally sail smoothly past Zimbabwe, then someone should caution them to be way of the silent assassin – Knowledge Musona – as well as the pocket dynamo – Khama Billiat – not to mention bulldozing Nyasha Mushekwi, otherwise let Cameroonian referee Alioum Alioum blow the whistle and let the games begin.