AFCON matchday preview: 'Scandal' strikes hosts Cameroon's first opponents, Burkina Faso

By Sports Desk January 08, 2022

After delays, postponements and date changes aplenty, the Africa Cup of Nations will finally start on Sunday, as hosts Cameroon take on Burkina Faso.

Group A will also pit Ethiopia and Cape Verde against each other on the opening day, with both eyeing up the possibility of staking their claim for a qualification spot behind favourites Cameroon.

But, as may have been expected of a tournament that has had more than its fair share of issues in the build-up, another problem has reared its head on the eve of the big kick-off.

Cameroon v Burkina Faso (16:00 GMT)

Burkina Faso are questioning the validity of the COVID-19 testing that was done on their squad, with "four or five" players and head coach Kamou Malo returning positive results.

They claim an unknown medical team turned up at their hotel to test the team and staff, but they refused to take them after the African Football Confederation (CAF) confirmed the people who had showed up were not sent by tournament organisers.

When the CAF delegation did show up, four positive tests came back and one was inconclusive, with Burkina Faso now demanding new swabs be taken.

Captain Bertrand Traore told reporters: "It's a scandal, we cannot be deprived of first-team players 24 hours before the match.

"The authorities must review the organisation. We cannot accept this decision. We can redo tests of our positive players."

Either way, Cameroon know the pressure is on for them to claim a sixth AFCON title, with this their first tournament as hosts in 50 years.

One to watch: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa (Cameroon)

AFCON has never been short of flair players, and in Zambo Anguissa Cameroon have a player really capable of getting fans off their feet. The Napoli man is a fascinating midfielder to watch due to his ability running with the ball. In Serie A this season, his 65.9 per cent dribble success is bettered by only seven midfielders (min. 25 dribble attempts, 500 minutes played), playing an important role in getting the Partenopei out of tight situations and onto the front foot.

 

Ethiopia v Cape Verde (19:00 GMT)

Four of the six teams to finish third in their group will go through to the next stage, so while that takes away some of the jeopardy for the best teams, it also provides more of a chance for those nations who would not otherwise expect to get far.

With Ethiopia and Cape Verde avoiding Cameroon on matchday one, both will fancy their chances of getting off to a positive start – and three points could be all they need to qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.

Cape Verde have been impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak, though, with coach Roberto Lopes among those infected.

Ethiopia are seemingly in better shape, with coach Wubetu Abate keen to show off their gifted young players.

"We respect our opponents, but we are confident in our talent," he said. "Our goal is not to just participate, but to show the world that Ethiopia has young talented players who can surprise."

One to watch: Amanuel Gebremichael (Ethiopia)

Ethiopia lost talisman – and one of just two foreign-based players – Shimelis Bekele to injury, meaning they will need others to step up. Most of the goalscoring burden is on the shoulders of Getaneh Kebede, but Gebremichael has a skillset that should make him a threat, boasting plenty of speed and the ability to get in behind defences.

Related items

  • Wimbledon: 'I had my own tactics out there' – Kyrgios overcomes frustrated Tsitsipas in controversial third-round clash Wimbledon: 'I had my own tactics out there' – Kyrgios overcomes frustrated Tsitsipas in controversial third-round clash

    Nick Kyrgios acknowledged having his "own tactics" after overcoming Stefanos Tsitsipas in a dramatic, ill-tempered affair to reach Wimbledon's last 16.

    Kyrgios produced an outstanding display to rally after losing the first set on No. 1 Court, eventually prevailing 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 6-3 7-6 (9-7) in an incident-filled match.

    The enigmatic star set the tone with an incredible outburst after a frustrated Tsitsipas struck a ball into the crowd at the end of the second set, narrowly missing a spectator.

    The Australian immediately called for his opponent to be defaulted, recalling Novak Djokovic's contentious exit from the 2020 US Open after he had accidentally hit a line judge in frustration after dropping a game.

    Kyrgios could be heard calling the umpire a "disgrace", and then, after Tsitsipas had been let off with a warning, the unseeded talent asked: "Are you dumb?"

    He then hit out at the umpire, yelling: "What are you talking about? Novak hit someone, it is the same, it happened right there. 

    "Bring out more supervisors, I'm not done. You can bring them all out, I don't care. I'm not playing until we get to the bottom of it. 

    "What happened to Novak when he hit the ball into a girl? She was injured. You can't hit a ball into the crowd and hit someone and not get defaulted."

    But the drama was far from done as Tsitsipas flew into a rage of his own early in the third, having been hit with a point deduction for wildly firing another ball towards the crowd – but hitting the scoreboard instead – after Kyrgios produced a mischievous underarm serve when holding to love.

    The fourth seed's frustration was evident as he then appeared to hit a couple of shots right at Kyrgios to boos from spectators, who vociferously cheered every point for the Australian.

    But after producing some outstanding tennis to end the aggravated Tsitsipas' hopes of winning a first grand slam title, Kyrgios said he had no problems with the Greek, whom he played doubles with at Wimbledon in 2019.

    "Honestly, it was a hell of an atmosphere, an amazing match, I honestly felt like the favourite coming in; I played him a couple of weeks ago, but I knew it was going to be a tough match," he said.

    "He's a hell of a player, I had my own tactics out there – he knows how to play me, he's beaten me once, and obviously I've had success, so it was a hell of a match.

    "I'm just super happy to be through, he was getting frustrated at times and it's a frustrating sport, that's for sure. I know you all think you can play, but it's very frustrating, whatever happens on the court, I love him."

    Kyrgios now holds a 4-1 head-to-head lead over Tsitsipas, having also got the better of the world number five on the grass at the Halle Open earlier this month.

    The 27-year-old also previously courted controversy during his run to the fourth round when he spat in the direction of a "disrespectful" fan during his first-round win over Paul Jubb.

    But Kyrgios claimed his antics serve to drive interest in the sport, adding: "It's amazing, everywhere I go I seem to have full stadiums.

    "The media loves to write that I'm bad for the sport, but clearly not."

  • Marquez set for Barcelona return as Mexico legend agrees to become B team coach Marquez set for Barcelona return as Mexico legend agrees to become B team coach

    Rafael Marquez is set to return to Barcelona as head coach of the Blaugrana's B team, club president Joan Laporta has confirmed.

    The former defender, widely considered one of Mexico's greatest ever players, won La Liga four times and lifted the Champions League trophy twice with Barcelona between 2003 and 2010. 

    He also won 147 caps for his country and appeared at five consecutive World Cups between 2002 and 2018, making his final professional appearance in El Tri's round-of-16 loss to Brazil in Russia four years ago.

    The 43-year-old is now set to follow in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique by coaching Barcelona B, who play in the third tier of the Spanish league system.

    Speaking at an event in S'Agaro, Laporta said: "Rafa in principle had [agreed] to be the coach of Barca Atletic last year, [but] he had a situation that prevented him from doing so.

    "Now this has already been resolved and Rafa will be the coach of Barca Atletic next season. 

    "I am especially happy because I had Rafa as a player, he is a person with a great personality, captain of the Mexican team, and who was part of one of the best Barca [teams] in history."

  • Wimbledon: Nadal swats aside Sonego in outstanding round-three win Wimbledon: Nadal swats aside Sonego in outstanding round-three win

    Rafael Nadal enjoyed serene progress into round four at Wimbledon with a stylish 6-1 6-2 6-4 defeat of Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday.

    For the first time at SW19 this week, there was little evidence of Nadal's recent fitness problems as he completely outclassed his Italian opponent.

    And on this form, the calendar Grand Slam appears a genuine possibility for the Australian Open and French Open champion.

    Indeed, it was hard not to feel sorry for Sonego – and he did appear to have the sympathy of the Centre Court crowd – as Nadal's strokes painted pretty patterns around him.

    The Spaniard remarkably dropped only two points on his own serve in the first set – both to double-faults. It was a similar story in Sonego's service games, too, as he held at the first attempt but then lost the next nine in succession.

    Such was Nadal's superiority a relieved Sonego lifted his arms to salute the crowd as he finally held serve in the fifth game of the second and was given a generous cheer.

    That small victory scarcely slowed Nadal, who wrapped up the second on his own serve and then blasted Sonego away in the opening game of the third to break once again.

    Sonego soon found a more effective way to hold up his opponent, however, appealing at length for the Centre Court roof to be closed and eventually succeeding after a brave hold and a handful of points on Nadal's serve informed officials he was capable of dragging the contest out under fading light.

    So it briefly proved, as Nadal – perhaps irked by the delay – lost his composure and was broken to love after Sonego made a noise as he approached the ball; Nadal deemed the umpire an unnecessary middle man and called Sonego over for a word, clearly upsetting the Italian.

    A fired-up Nadal immediately broke back, and after finally delivering a little drama, the match – and Sonego's campaign – was over.

    Data Slam: Rafa ramping up

    This was Sonego's first meeting with Nadal, and he might have picked a better time to face this fiercely focused great. The 22-time major champion has now won 10 third-round Wimbledon matches in a row, including the past four without dropping a set. Sonego had a hard enough time merely winning a game for much of the match.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Nadal – 24/17
    Sonego – 19/17

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Nadal – 2/4
    Sonego – 2/2

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Nadal – 6/8
    Sonego – 1/1

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.