CAF target World Cup win within next decade

CAF Executive member Constant Omari at the Bata Stadium, Bata, Equatorial Guinea Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Recent changes to the Africa Cup of Nations have been made to help a team from the continent win the FIFA World Cup within a decade, a senior African Confederation of Football (CAF) official has said.

The CAF General Assembly decided in July the next Nations Cup, to be staged in Cameroon in 2019, will be moved from its traditional January/February slot to June/July and will see the number of participating teams upped from 16 to 24.

CAF president Ahmad Ahmad caused a stir earlier this month when he suggested Cameroon would struggle to be ready for the enlarged tournament and hinted the country could even lose the right to stage the competition.

That outburst provoked an angry riposte from Cameroonian sporting and political figures, but CAF Second Vice-President in charge of marketing and international relations, Constant Omari, 59, explained to L'Equipe Ahmad's statement had been a ploy to ensure a smooth build-up to the final tournament.

"There was no questioning of Cameroon as hosts. African culture means we react at the last second. But it was time to react. And what goes for Cameroon also goes for Guinea [organisers of the 2012 tournament]. So, the CAF president produced that electro-shock," said Omari, who discussed the controversy with Cameroon legend Samuel Eto'o.

"We just re-sounded a cry of alarm, which came from the CAF symposium in Morocco a month ago, which brought together all the elements of African football. We laid out a new roadmap, taking into account the quality of infrastructure.

"The majority of great African players have taken part in this work. They're the first ones to complain about the quality of the infrastructure, their demands have been taken into account. Today, I don't see an African player who could refuse to support the CAF.

"I explained the motivation behind President Ahmad's statement. He understood it well. All the Cameroonian stars want their country to organise a great African Nations Cup. I told him the main concern of the CAF was to firstly protect African players.

"That's also why we have rescheduled the ANC dates. We have put ourselves in sync with the global calendar. We also have to reduce the gulf between us and UEFA, the leading confederation. Today, the aim is for an African team to win the World Cup in the next ten years.

"Our players show they have the same physical and technical value as their colleagues, so we're not going to stop ourselves dreaming."

Cameroon were the surprise winners of the 2017 Nations Cup with a squad shorn of a number of its big-name players, such as Joel Matip and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, who preferred to focus on retaining their places in their club's first teams.

Though he denied pressure from clubs had forced the scheduling change, Omari acknowledged the switch was necessary to avoid giving players a difficult choice to make.

"There was no pressure, but a major problem had to be resolved. The player is paid by his club. He wants to be available without affecting his contract and we had to put the player at the centre of the debate.

"Cameroon won the last ANC, but didn't have a number of players. The marketing of this competition requires the involvement of the biggest African stars. They're the ones who give it added value."