Why the 2019 AFCON Draw seems not to be making a lot of sense?
The wait is over, the 24 finalists of this year’s Total Africa Cup of Nations were grouped last night in Egypt at a special event, held in the beautiful open space with a scenic view of the Sphinx and the historic pyramid of Giza. Battle lines were drawn long ago at the dawning of the qualifiers and now the chasing pack have learnt of their next opponents. However, there is something less interesting about the outcome of the draw, at least in my eyes.
Referencing the UEFA Champions League competition for example, there are rules that are factored in deciding fixtures and opponents, which include the club’s country of origin, final position in the group stages and popularly the seeding or in other words the ranking of the club. For example, in a typical UCL round of 16 draw, no two teams that faced each other in the preceding group stages can be drawn together, neither can two clubs from the same country and teams that finished first can only play those that were second as reward for getting pole position. Now, it all seems different for the first AFCON finals tournament to host 24 nations.
In seeding the finalists, the most recent FIFA World rankings were employed. A case can be made to use such a ranking but it may be less specific to the African continent thus have seemingly failed to incorporate the performance of the teams in the qualifiers or any other factors that make the competition more diverse. For instance, group A which comprises of hosts Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe had three of the four nations that topped their respective groups. Ideally and more sensibly, the groups should have an equal balance of those who finished first and second – at least as a reward for the exploits of those who topped their groups. Even worse, DR Congo and Zimbabwe faced each other in the qualifiers group stage and have do battle all over again whereas the competition and experience would have been more diverse and rich if the opponents were shuffled well with 22 other finalists. DR Congo who finished second behind Zimbabwe in their group even got a higher seeding than table topping Zimbabwe. One would be justified, should their question the importance of the qualifiers themselves. The same applies with the resultant group D that features one team that finished first in the qualifier groups, that is Morocco and then Namibia, Ivory Coast and South Africa who were all second. I obviously have more reservations about the resulting groups and the procedure of the draw of which time may not permit me to explore. Furthermore, the UEFA draw procedures are by no means a perfect standard but have indeed travelled some distance in promoting fairness and overall competition of the game.
After all is said and done, all this will not make the competition less interesting but might take a little bit of fun out it. Rest assured, all the 24 nations will arrive in Egypt with a simple goal of conquering the continent and as we have seen in times past, they are no really underdogs in Africa.
The first and the second place finishers in the group stages are guaranteed round of 16 knock-out spots as well as four other best third-placed teams.
Here are the complete groups of the 2019 AFCON to run from the 21st of June – 19th of July in Egypt.
Group A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
Group D: Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia
Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau