Africa World Cup stadium ban plunges qualifiers into crisis

Kenya’s Merveil Ndockyt (L) fights for the ball with Congo’s Michale Olunga during the AFCON 2017 qualifying football match at the Moi International Sports center Kasarani in Nairobi. [AFP PHOTO]

Africa’s World Cup qualifiers have been thrown into crisis after a ban on numerous stadia across the continent left many countries facing the prospect of hosting matches next month outside their borders.

The Confederation of African Football, in a circular to member associations this week, has issued a list of approved stadiums for the first two rounds of group matches in June.

The list leaves a quarter of the 40 teams competing for places in Qatar 2022 without a venue to play their home qualifiers.

Those affected include Senegal, who competed at the last World Cup in Russia in 2018, and Mali, who were among the top seeded teams for the preliminaries.

Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger and Sierra Leone have all not had their home stadiums approved as CAF cracks down on poor infrastructure around the continent.

They now face a tight deadline to upgrade venues before the first set of matches begin on June 5 or they will have to host them elsewhere.

Senegal open their Group H campaign at home to Togo in the first week of June, but their iconic Leopold Senghor Stadium is closed for renovations and alternate venues used for recent internationals declared unfit by CAF.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Uganda have had their main stadiums rejected but will still be able to play at home at smaller, alternate venues.

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The group phase of Africa’s World Cup preliminaries has the 40 countries divided into 10 groups of four. They will play six matches each through until October.

In November, the group winners will pair off into five playoff ties with the aggregate victors qualifying for the finals in Qatar next year.

African football has long been blighted by poor stadium facilities and sub-standard pitches and CAF have steadily shown more resolve in banning venues.

But in March, a similar ban on several stadia across the continent for the last round of Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers was lifted at the last minute. CAF gave no explanation for the change of heart.

 

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