The Confederation of African Football have confirmed that the Africa Cup of Nations will be expanded from 16 teams to 24 as of the 2019 edition.
The expansion of the biennial tournament was one of the key issues discussed during the Caf Symposium in Morocco earlier this week, and a statement issued by the Confederation of African Football have confirmed the decisions taken by the working party.
As well as the expansion—the first since 1996—the tournament will be shifted from January-February to June-July, a step which brings the competition further in line with the European football calendar.
However, there are other proposals which have not been passed.
The tournament will remain every two years, rather than switch to every four years, while the Caf statement confirmed that the competition would be played exclusively on African soil, with the possibility of allowing other continents to host the Afcon having been mooted.
The decision is sure to go down well with European clubs and Europe-based players, who will now avoid the regular player vs. club wrangles that affect many of the continent’s overseas players during Afcon years.
However, the decision also raises various unanswered questions.
For example, moving the Nations Cup to June and July would appear to rule out a whole swathe of potential hosts for whom the summer months would be too hot for putting on the continental showpiece.
The expansion also risks diluting the quality of the tournament.
The symposium has also led to changes elsewhere in the continental game; inter-club competitions will shift to an August-May calendar – again a move which aligns the African game with the European calendar – having previously been played within a single calendar year.
There will now be regional qualifiers for age-grade Nations Cups – a move which will doubtless affect West African hegemony of the tournament – while Caf have also vowed to improve international partnerships and strengthen relationships between the confederations, each national association, governments and the African Union.
Finally, Caf have also promised to endorse “the principle of creating a framework for cooperation with legendary African footballers and their greater involvement in CAF activities.”