Hosts unknown, but Cup of Nations to take centre stage in Africa

Confederation of African Football will announce next Wednesday whether Egypt or South Africa stages the tournament, which is scheduled to be played from mid-June to mid-July.

Cameroon will enter the 2019 edition of African Cup of Nations as the defending champion.   -  AP

A 24-team tournament will take centre stage this year in the continent, but the host hasn't been named yet.

Confederation of African Football (CAF) will announce next Wednesday whether Egypt or South Africa stages the tournament scheduled to be played from June 15 to July 13, after Cameroon was dropped over preparation delays and security concerns.

The date switch from January/February should end club-versus-country rows after a growing number of African stars were reluctant to leave their European teams in mid-season.

Increasing the number of finalists from 16 has already had an impact with former whipping boys Madagascar and Mauritania qualifying for the first time.

AFP Sport looks at what lies in store at national team and club levels during 2019 for the most popular sport in Africa.

Player of the Year

Egypt and Liverpool scoring sensation Mohamed Salah is set to retain the title in Dakar on January 8 with team-mate Sadio Mane from Senegal his closest challenger.

If Salah continues to score consistently, he could challenge the record of former Ivory Coast and Manchester City star Yaya Toure, who was voted number one four consecutive times.

Cup of Nations host

There is little to choose between Egypt and South Africa ahead of a fourth straight Cup of Nations to be held in a country which wasn't originally chosen as the host.

But one marked difference would be the weather with Egypt experiencing northern hemisphere summer heat in June and July while South Africa shivers in the southern hemisphere winter.

Cup of Nations

Should Egypt be named host, the record seven-time African champion would be favoured to go one better than 2017, when it lost the final to Cameroon in Libreville.

Read: Mahrez double fires Algeria to 2019 AFCON

Were South Africa to get the nod, the chances of Senegal and former champions Tunisia, Morocco and Nigeria lifting the trophy would increase.

Champions League

Holders Esperance of Tunisia, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Al Ahly of Egypt have won seven of the last ten finals and are among the favourites again.

Ahly, under new Uruguayan coach Martin Lasarte, will be desperate for a first success since 2013 having lost the last two finals to Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Esperance.

Confederation Cup

North African clubs have won 10 of the 15 finals in the second-tier competition and trophy-holder Raja Casablanca of Morocco heads a powerful challenge from the region.

Few pundits are looking beyond Raja, Etoile Sahel and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia and Zamalek of Egypt as potential winners in the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.

Super Cup

History will be made when Esperance and Raja meet with Qatar becoming the first non-African venue for the annual match between the Champions League and Confederation Cup winners.

Traditionally staged at the home of the CAF champion, the switch has angered Esperance supporters, particularly as the club turns 100 on January 15.

Club World Cup

Esperance was the latest flop from Africa, crashing 3-0 to 2018 hosts Al Ain of the United Emirates and eventually finishing fifth in a seven-club field.

The change to an August-to-May CAF club season from this year should offer more preparation time and, hopefully, mean less embarrassment for the African champion.

FIFA windows

The first during March will be used for the final Cup of Nations qualifiers and there are a further three nine-day internationals windows in the second half of the year.

Will Africa consider following the lead of Europe and introduce a CAF Nations League? It would be an improvement on African friendlies often shunned by Europe-based stars.

Olympics

Egypt will host an eight-nation tournament during November with three places at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games up for grabs.

Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Egypt qualified for the previous two African tournaments and they have been kept apart in the three-round elimination competition.

African Nations Championship

No details have been announced regarding qualifying for the sixth edition of this unique international football competition restricted to those playing in their country of birth.

Ethiopia will host the 2020 finals -- the first time the east African country has staged a CAF competition since the 1976 Cup of Nations.