Curse Of The Holders Strikes Again As AFCON Heads Into Knockout Phase

Algeria's forward Riyad Mahrez reacts after Ivory Coast scored their fourth goal that did not count during the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ivory Coast and Algeria at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 20, 2022. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP
Algeria’s forward Riyad Mahrez reacts after Ivory Coast scored their fourth goal that did not count during the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ivory Coast and Algeria at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 20, 2022. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

 

As the Africa Cup of Nations heads into the knockout stages, the reigning champions are heading home early to follow a pattern set at recent editions of the tournament.

Algeria were unceremoniously dumped out on Thursday, Riyad Mahrez missing a penalty in a 3-1 defeat against the Ivory Coast before a delirious crowd in Douala as they finished bottom of their group with one point.

Djamel Belmadi’s team arrived in Cameroon on a 34-game unbeaten run and were naturally one of the favourites to win the title. Instead, the Fennec Foxes depart with their tails between their legs.

It has been notoriously difficult for teams to retain major international titles. No side has successfully defended the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, while Spain in 2012 are the only nation to have retained the European Championship.

In Africa, the Cup of Nations might be held more often and now features 24 teams after its expansion for the 2019 edition, but the reigning champions have a habit of stumbling at the finals.

Since Egypt won a third consecutive AFCON in 2010, only once have the titleholders made the knockout phase of the following edition.

That was Cameroon in 2019, but they were eliminated in the last 16. Egypt did not even qualify for the tournament in 2012, nor did Nigeria in 2015 after they won the previous edition.

Fans Show Up At Last 

Mali’s forward Ibrahima Kone (2L) celebrates with teammates and supporters after scoring a goal during the Group F Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Gambia and Mali at Limbe Omnisport Stadium in Limbe on January 16, 2022. Issouf SANOGO / AFP

 

Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle was the assistant to Herve Renard when Zambia won the title in 2012 and he believes that has shown national teams across Africa what is possible.

“It is always difficult to successfully defend the title because it is a coveted trophy and when we won it with Zambia in 2012 that inspired a lot of teams as well,” Beaumelle said.

“Zambia was a great team but not one you would say would-be contenders to win every time. Everyone wants to go far and we don’t know who is going to win it.”

Since the tournament’s initial expansion to 16 teams a quarter of a century ago, whenever the AFCON has been held in North Africa it has been won by a North African team.

However, North African sides have often struggled elsewhere on the continent, with the obvious exception of the Egyptians who notably won in Ghana in 2008 and Angola in 2010.

Belmadi regularly cited the challenging conditions as a reason for his team’s struggles during their games in Cameroon’s economic capital Douala, where temperatures are high and humidity extreme.

After a disappointing start as fans stayed away in droves due to the coronavirus rules in place to attend games in football-mad Cameroon, crowds have increased markedly, with 30,000 in Douala to see Algeria go out.

 Minnows Enjoy Their Moment 

Ghana's goalkeeper Abdul Manaf Nurudeen (R) fights for the ball with Comoros' forward Said Bakari (2L) during the Group C Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ghana and Comoros at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 18, 2022. Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP
Ghana’s Abdul Manaf Nurudeen (R) fights for the ball with Comoros’ forward Said Bakari (2L) during the Group C Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ghana and Comoros at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 18, 2022. Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP

 

 

The knockout stages begin on Sunday with Nigeria — the only side to win all three group games — playing Tunisia in one of the ties of the last 16.

Cameroon, Morocco, the Ivory Coast, Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, and Sadio Mane’s Senegal are through too, but the expanded format has also allowed two minnows to make their mark.

In their first AFCON, the tiny Indian Ocean island nation of the Comoros beat Ghana and qualified for the last 16 as a best third-placed side.

Ranked 132nd in the world and with a majority of players hailing from the Comorian community in France, they play the hosts next.

Gambia are the lowest-ranked national team at the finals, sitting 150th in the world, and yet they qualified from their group with seven points.

“When I arrived in July 2018, Gambia had not won a competitive match in five years,” their Belgian coach, Tom Saintfiet, told AFP this week.

“There was no hope, the team was 172nd in the world. I said I was here to qualify Gambia and everyone thought I was mad.”

Now they face west African rivals Guinea, and their Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, for a place in the quarter-finals.

AFP

AFCON: Vaccination And COVID-19 Test Required For Fans

File photo: A healthcare worker fills a syringe with Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a community vaccination event. Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

 

Supporters attending matches at next month’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon will be required to show proof of vaccination and present a negative Covid-19 test result, officials announced Thursday.

The announcement was made in a joint statement signed by Cameroon’s ministers for sport and health as well as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) general secretary, and comes at a time of growing speculation the tournament could be cancelled or postponed again.

“Fans will not be able to get into the stadiums… unless they are fully vaccinated and show a negative PCR test of less than 72 hours or a negative antigen test of less than 24 hours,” the document said.

“Despite this additional challenge posed by this pandemic, our Cup of Nations must now take place,” it added.

The opening ceremony for the 24-team competition is due to be held at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde on January 9 ahead of the first game between hosts Cameroon and Burkina Faso.

The final is scheduled for the same venue on February 6.

Fans Face Vaccine Checks As Premier League Battles COVID-19 Wave

Fans sit in the stands during an English Premier League football match at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on December 5, 2021. Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

Premier League fans will be subject to vaccine passport checks to enter stadiums from Wednesday, but fears are rising over how long the English top flight can continue in front of capacity crowds as the Omicron variant sweeps across Britain.

Tottenham’s trip to Brighton and Manchester United’s visit to Brentford have been postponed due to outbreaks in the Spurs and United camps in recent days.

Aston Villa, Leicester and Norwich have also reported positives as part of a record 42 cases of Covid-19 among Premier League players and staff in the past week.

That figure is the highest since testing began in May 2020 when top-flight football in England returned after a three-month delay caused by the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Barcelona To Play Napoli In Europa League Knockout Play-Offs

For over a year the action continued on the field in front of empty stands until a loosening of restrictions allowed the Premier League to return to capacity crowds in August.

There were no restrictions for supporters at most stadiums, although Brighton, Chelsea and Tottenham did introduce the mandatory checks for vaccination or proof of a negative test that will now be deployed across England for crowds of over 10,000.

The specter of Covid loomed in the background even as tens of thousands of unmasked fans mixed in close quarters to watch Steven Gerrard’s return to Liverpool as Aston Villa manager on Saturday.

A pop-up testing centre offered free lateral flow tests to the passing crowds.

Newly deployed “Covid stewards” were positioned around Anfield to offer advice on how to download vaccination status onto a smartphone in preparation for Thursday’s first match under the new rules against Newcastle.

Liverpool fans have already been affected by problems with the club’s new e-ticketing system that saw long queues to get into the stadium in the early weeks of the season.

Premier League clubs are scrambling to get extra staff for checks, but delays are expected.

“It is going to be another shambles,” said Richard Walker, a 55-year-old Liverpool fan. “A lot of older people don’t have the latest phone or know how to work it.

“It’s the middle of winter and now we’ll be standing in queues for ages waiting to get in.”

 ‘Small sacrifice’ 

Many other fans were more supportive of the measure as long as it keeps the doors open during a busy festive calendar of games.

“It’s a small sacrifice compared to being shut out,” said Lucas Brownley, 33, who regularly travels from London to Liverpool for home games.

“Older people might struggle with the technology, but they are the ones that need most protecting. It is for their sake.”

The Football Supporters Association (FSA) has backed the vaccine passport in a bid to avoid the return to sport behind closed doors as has already happened for major matches in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.

“From the earliest days of the pandemic we have always said that supporters should follow the expert advice of medical professionals and scientists,” FSA chair Malcolm Clarke told AFP.

“If those experts feel that public health is best served by the introduction of vaccine passports or lateral flow tests for all large outdoor events, then we accept that requirement.”

In announcing the strengthening of measures against the virus last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the vaccine passport would “keep these events and venues open at full capacity”.

It would also give those who attend confidence they have minimised the risk to others and themselves, he added.

But Johnson is facing anger from his own MPs — and a significant rebellion — about their introduction, with many seeing them as an unnecessary curb on public freedoms.

For now, the show goes on with nine of the 10 Premier League matches scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday still going ahead in front of full crowds.

AFP

Premier League Fans To Be Subjected To COVID-19 Spot-Checks

premier-league-fixtures-today
The Premier League was put on hold since mid-March due to COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Twitter/Premier League.

 

The Premier League has announced fans will be subject to random spot-checks of their Covid-19 status in the opening weeks of the new season.

The 2021-22 campaign kicks off on Friday when newly-promoted Brentford host Arsenal with national government restrictions on crowd capacity now eased.

Any limits on attendances are agreed with local authorities and the Premier League clubs hope their protocols will ensure a return to full stadiums across the country.

In a statement, the Premier League said fans going to games should be prepared to show they have been fully vaccinated or have received a negative lateral flow test in the previous 48 hours.

The UK government has so far refused to introduce a mandatory vaccine passport system, but the English top-flight clubs are preparing in case that changes in the coming months.

“Initially, in the first few matchdays of the season, supporters can expect the introduction of random spot-checks for ticket holders at some grounds as we establish the required processes so clubs and fans are prepared for all match attenders to have their Covid-19 status checked upon arrival, should it become mandatory,” the Premier League statement added.

READ ALSO: Post-Olympics: Spotlight Shifts To Qatar 2022 World Cup

Fans must also comply with a supporter code of conduct, which stresses the importance of wearing masks in indoor areas, avoiding close contact with people they do not know and following one-way signs around stadiums.

Meanwhile, nine Premier League players or members of staff were positive for coronavirus in the latest round of testing.

AFP

UEFA Charges English FA Over Fan Disturbances During Final

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows the UEFA logo at the organization's headquarters in Nyon. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows the UEFA logo at the organization’s headquarters in Nyon. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

UEFA has charged the English Football Association (FA) over fan disturbances during England’s Euro 2020 final loss to Italy, European football’s governing body announced on Tuesday.

An investigation into “events involving supporters which occurred inside and around the stadium” will also be conducted, after fans without tickets managed to force their way into Wembley on Sunday.

Videos on social media also appeared to show England supporters fighting among each other in the stadium.

The FA had already been fined 30,000 euros ($35,600) after a laser was shone in the face of Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel during England’s semi-final win last week.

As for that match, England were again charged for booing “during the (Italian) national anthem” and “lighting of a firework”.

The other two charges related to the final were for a pitch invasion during the game and the “throwing of objects” by supporters.

Some spectators were unable to take their seats due to people without tickets getting into the stands.

London’s Metropolitan Police said it made 86 arrests and a total of 19 officers were injured while managing the final.

“A UEFA ethics and disciplinary inspector has been appointed to conduct a disciplinary investigation into events involving supporters which occurred inside and around the stadium,” UEFA said.

“Information on this matter will be made available in due course.”

Italy won the final 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to secure their second European Championship title and first since 1968.

AFP

England Fans Urged Not To Fly To Rome For Euro 2020 Quarter-Final

Supporters protest against Manchester United’s owners, outside English Premier League club Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, north west England on May 2, 2021. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

England fans have been urged not to travel to Rome for their side’s Euro 2020 quarter-final against Ukraine on Saturday as coronavirus restrictions mean even those with tickets cannot use them.

Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Germany at a raucous Wembley propelled Gareth Southgate’s men into the last eight of the Covid-delayed European Championship.

But Italian health regulations mean supporters travelling from Britain would face five days of quarantine and therefore they would miss the match.

It means England face taking to the pitch without the vocal backing of their fans, who have only recently been allowed to return to Wembley as Covid-19 restrictions have been eased.

England’s governing Football Association was entitled to a ticket allocation of 2,560, equating to 16 percent of the permitted capacity of 16,000 at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

But instead the tickets will go on general sale for what will be England’s only game of the tournament away from Wembley.

The FA said it was working with European football’s governing body UEFA and the British embassy in Rome to “facilitate” ticket sales to England fans resident in Italy.

British government advice is that fans should not travel to Italy, an “amber list” country requiring 10 days of self-isolation upon return.

Britain is experiencing a surge in new coronavirus cases blamed on the Delta variant that was first detected in India, despite a successful vaccination drive.

AFP

Premier League Clubs Given Green Light For Return Of Fans

premier-league-fixtures-today
The Premier League was put on hold since mid-March due to COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Twitter/Premier League.

 

Liverpool, Chelsea, Brighton and West Ham will be able to allow fans into their stadiums next month under a new tier system to tackle the spread of coronavirus in England.

The Premier League clubs are within tier-two areas, meaning clubs can welcome up to 2,000 fans.

The Premier League is yet to confirm the scheduling for matches to be played over the weekend of December 5 and 6.

Brighton will host Southampton, Chelsea are at home to Leeds, champions Liverpool take on Wolves at Anfield while West Ham could welcome fans to the London Stadium for the visit of Manchester United.

They would be the first top-flight matches to be attended by fans since the Covid-19 crisis took hold in March.

The other matches will be played in tier-three areas, where fans are still not allowed.

English Football League chairman Rick Parry said his competition was considering whether to switch next Tuesday’s matches to Wednesday if any of the home clubs were able to allow fans in after the general lockdown period ends.

The government had been set to allow supporters back into sports venues in limited numbers from October 1, but scrapped the plans after a rise in coronavirus infection rates nationwide.

Arsenal’s Europa League match at home to Rapid Vienna on December 3 could be the first European tie involving an English club to welcome fans.

AFP

Rio To Allow Football Fans From July 10

Handout picture released by the Communication Department of Botafogo showing a man disinfecting the tunnel of the Nilton Santos stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 28, 2020, minutes before the start of the 2020 Carioca Championship match between Botafogo and Cabofriense which will be played behind closed-doors amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. Vitor SILVA / Botafogo / AFP.

 

The state of Rio de Janeiro will allow football fans into stadiums from July 10, initially at one-third capacity, according to an official decree.

Capacity will move to two-thirds from August 1, while stadiums will be able to function with no restrictions from August 16, said the decree published by Rio townhall on Friday.

The initial easing must allow for 4 sqm per person and ticket sales will only be online.

The Rio state championship has been the first to resume in South America, a region hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The league, comprising professional teams within Rio state, resumed behind closed doors on June 18.

Brazil has the second-highest number of infections and deaths from the new coronavirus worldwide, after the United States: more than 1.2 million and 55,000, respectively.

And one of Brazil’s top football clubs, Fluminense, won its battle Friday not to play matches at a stadium also serving as a coronavirus hospital, which it argued was disrespectful to victims and their families.

READ ALSO: Dortmund Open Door For Meunier To Play Champions League With PSG

Struggling to avoid the collapse of the health system as the pandemic surges in Brazil, authorities have set up a field hospital in the parking lot at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium.

Paradoxically, the venue also began hosting matches again last week, after a three-month coronavirus hiatus on all professional football across the continent.

AFP

Liverpool Criticise Fans For “Unacceptable” Celebrations

Liverpool fans celebrate victory outside Anfield stadium in Liverpool, north west England on June 26, 2020 after Liverpool FC sealed the Premier League title the previous evening. Oli SCARFF / AFP
Liverpool fans celebrate victory outside Anfield stadium in Liverpool, north west England on June 26, 2020 after Liverpool FC sealed the Premier League title the previous evening. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Liverpool on Saturday criticised some of its own fans for “wholly unacceptable” behaviour after they crowded parts of the city to celebrate the team’s first championship in 30 years.

In a joint statement with Merseyside Police and Liverpool City Council, the club condemned supporters who ignored coronavirus social distance guidance to gather at the Pier Head waterfront.

“Our city is still in a public health crisis and this behaviour is wholly unacceptable,” read the statement.

“The potential danger of a second peak of COVID-19 still exists and we need to work together to make sure we don’t undo everything that has been achieved as a region during lockdown.”

Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, also condemned the scenes, claiming on Twitter they had brought a “negative focus” on the city.

Social media images showed a firework hitting the Liver Bird building, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, during a second night of celebrations on Friday.

Vast amounts of rubbish were cleared by the council on Saturday morning.

Liverpool secured the English Premier League title on Thursday night after their only rivals, Manchester City, lost 2-1 to Chelsea, meaning Liverpool could not be caught.

Prior to the title being won, police and local authorities had warned fans not to gather because of the fear of further spreading the coronavirus.

Police had urged fans to celebrate only with family members as they claimed Liverpool had been “disproportionately affected” by Covid-19.

 

AFP

‘Football With Fans Will Be Back Soon,’ Says UEFA Chief

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows the UEFA logo at the organization's headquarters in Nyon. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows the UEFA logo at the organization’s headquarters in Nyon. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is confident “good old football with fans will come back very soon” despite the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Domestic and continental club competitions were halted across Europe in mid-March due to the COVID-19 crisis and Euro 2020 was postponed.

The Bundesliga made a successful return to action behind closed doors at the weekend and many other leagues are preparing to resume in front of empty stands, with Ceferin sure the situation will soon improve.

Asked whether he would bet a million dollars that Euro 2020 would be played in 2021, the chief of European football’s governing body told the Guardian: “Yes, I would. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be.

“I don’t think that this virus will last forever. I think it will (change) sooner than many think.

“I don’t like this apocalyptic view that we have to wait for the second and third waves or even a fifth wave.”

Ceferin said football would follow the recommendations of the authorities but he was optimistic that normal service could be resumed in the near future.

“I’m absolutely sure, personally, that good old football with fans will come back very soon,” he said.

And Ceferin said he did not expect the game to be profoundly changed by the coronavirus.

“Football didn’t change after the Second World War, or First World War, and it will not change because of a virus either,” he said.

AFP

Liverpool Condemn Fans For ‘Racist’ Divock Origi Banner

Liverpool fans in the stands at Anfield during their side’s 5-2 win against Roma (OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Liverpool have condemned a “racist” banner depicting Divock Origi that was displayed in the away end before their Champions League clash with Genk in Belgium on Wednesday.

The banner appeared to show Origi’s head photoshopped onto a naked body alongside the Champions League trophy. It was removed before the match started.

A club statement said: “Liverpool Football Club condemns the offensive banner displayed in our section of the ground, prior to kick-off.

“To be clear, the image used perpetuated a racist stereotype. This is completely unacceptable.

“We acted swiftly to have the banner removed and we are now working with the local authorities and stadium team in Genk to identify those responsible.

“Any subsequent action will be taken in keeping with our sanctions process.”

Madrid Unveil Hazard Before Thousands Of Fans

Belgian footballer Eden Hazard (R) and Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez hold the midfielder’s new jersey during his official presentation as new player of the Spanish club at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on June 13, 2019. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Eden Hazard was unveiled at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday as around 50,000 supporters turned out to welcome the player they hope will launch a glorious new era under Zinedine Zidane.

The 28-year-old Hazard was presented with the home shirt, which was without a number, by club president Florentino Perez, moments after the Belgian had delivered a brief statement to his expectant fans.

“Hello everyone,” Hazard started in Spanish, to huge cheers, before continuing in French. “It was my dream since I was small to play forRealMadridand now I am here.”

“You are one of the best players in the world,” added Perez. “We know Real Madrid was where you wanted to be and now you’re here.”

Madrid confirmed the much-anticipated transfer of Hazard from Chelsea on Friday for an initial 100 million euros ($113 million), with another 45 million in potential add-ons.

The full amount would trump the 101 million euros Madrid paid Tottenham for Gareth Bale and the 91 million euros they spent to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United.

Ronaldo attracted almost 80,000 for his presentation in 2009 and while the attendance for Hazard was not as large, this was still an impressive turnout.

Even three hours before, long queues snaked around the stadium while some supporters were seen running towards entrances they heard had suddenly been opened.

Inside, they roared as Hazard’s best goals were shown on a big screen and then again when he struck a penalty into an open net.

Hazard juggled with one ball in front of the cameras and then booted dozens of them into the stands, waving and applauding as he walked around the edge of the pitch.

Before he emerged, there had been chants of “We want Mbappe!” and a scattering of whistles for Perez, who has been tasked with rebuilding a Madrid squadthat woefully underperformed last season.

Perez has admitted to being interested in Kylian Mbappe but the club’s transfers this summer already amount to around 300 million euros after the arrivals of Luka Jovic, Eder Militao and Ferland Mendy.

There will surely have to be sales before the French striker could be prized from Paris Saint-Germain.

Without Mbappe, it will be Hazard, who scored 110 goals in seven seasons at Chelsea, who may be the star of Zidane’s renovated team, with the winger’s arrival bolstering an already-bloated list of attacking options.

Scrapping for the spots in support of Karim Benzema are currently Vinicius Junior, Bale, Isco, Brahim Diaz, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and even James Rodriguez, who has returned from a loan spell at Bayern Munich.

Hazard’s place is all-but guaranteed and he will be expected to at least help in plugging the gap left by Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus. They are big shoes to fill.

AFP