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Premier League teams to benefit from changes to African Cup of Nations 

Friday 21st July 2017
The latest tweak to the Africa Cup of Nations should come as sweet music to the ears of European sides, especially Premier League teams. Unlike times past, clubs will no longer lose its players to the competition as it will now be held in the summer rather than winter.

Africa's flagship soccer fiesta is perhaps the third most-popular regional tournament behind the European Championship and Copa America. In fact, the zone stands taller than the rest in terms of size; with 56 member countries. Over time, the competition has served as breeding ground for the continent's brightest prospects, waxing stronger since its first edition in 1957.

Yet, the structure and timing have consistently been its bane. The AFCON is held once every two years, parading 16 national teams. But unlike other tournaments, it is played in the middle of the season, between January and February,  a time the Premier League is in full swing. What this means is that clubs are now obliged to release their players, who at the end, either return injured or off-form.

So what's new?

When Ahmad Ahmad ended Issa Hayatou's 30-year reign as Confederation of African Football (CAF) president early in the year, he immediately set out to overhaul the region's football. Among other policies, the Madagascan proposed to expand the AFCON to 24 teams, explore the prospect of hosting in the middle east as well as switch the timing to summers and quadrennially.

It was now down to the executive committee to approve his proposal at a congress in Morocco. But of all the recommendations made by Ahmad, the body rubber-stamped just two; the addition of eight extra teams and switch from the traditional January to June/June, starting from the next edition in Cameroon.

"A consensus emerged on a number of issues raised by the working groups. Increasing the Africa Cup of Nations to 24 teams as of the 2019 edition, and the tournament will now be held in the months of June and July. The competition will, however, remain a biennial event (every two years), odd years and exclusively held on African soil with African national teams."- CAF said in a statement on Thursday.

The positives for Premier League

An increase in the participating teams appears to have no direct effect on the Premier League. Rather it is the switch to the summer, considering English sides have suffered the most from the tournament's ill-timing. At the previous edition, won by Cameroon in Gabon, around 21 players from 12 Premier League clubs took part.

Sunderland, Stoke City and Leicester City were the most hit, missing three players each during the period. But henceforth, managers will no longer have to contend with losing vital members of their squad at one of the busiest points of the season.

"It's fantastic," Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp, reacting to the adjustment on Friday morning. "When we signed Mo Salah, I was already thinking 'Oh my God in one-and-a-half years we lose both (alongside Sadio Mane) in the winter', but that's not happening now so that gives us two more players in the winter time. That's very good."

From the African perspective

Not only Premier League sides will stand to benefit from the changes; the players themselves too. More teams will start to show heightened interest in African stars, knowing they will have them for keeps throughout the entire season. Also, staging the event in the summer will allow the players themselves to concentrate more on their development, rather than the usual stop-start season.
Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 

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