Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Cup of Nations 3 Weeks Away!

Happy New Year!! We here at Road to 2010 wish all of you a happy 2008!

We're excited to be back! In less than 3 weeks, the African Cup of Nations kicks off in Ghana. We can't wait! We wish we were going, but that's ok. New York City affords the opportunity to see the games live with many supporters. Should be lots of fun ...

To kick off 2008, we present a debate featured on the Guardian Unlimited's wonderful football website on the merits of moving the Cup of Nations to a different time in the footballing calender.

On one side is Ibrahima Sonko, Reading and Senegal defender, who argues that the Cup should be moved to May. On the other side is Mark Bright, former Crystal Palace striker now BBC commentator, who says the Cup should be scheduled where the Confederation of African Football 'believes the best possible conditions will be available.'

Have a go at the interesting debate and reader feedback on the Guardian's website or here.

p.s. To all our friends in Kenya: Be safe and we hope the conflicts end as soon as possible.

Should the African Cup of Nations be held at the end of a season?

Ibrahima Sonko, Reading and Senegal defender

My preference would be to play the African Cup of Nations in May. Holding the tournament in the middle of February means that the African players cannot be with their clubs, which can create tension. Every player in the world wants to play for his country and we can't help it if the tournament is at the wrong time . Normally when you get to April, everyone knows where they are in the league. They should probably put the African Cup in May, so people can play as long they as they can with their clubs and then just allow them to leave a bit earlier.

Even if you are a team chasing a title, it would be no more difficult in May than it is at the start of the year. There will be four, five or six players from the league who are playing for Senegal, so what is the diff erence when clubs lose them? It would be more difficult for the smaller squads. I am not saying it would be easy for Chelsea and Arsenal playing up at the top of the table at the end of the season but there is no easy solution.

But one thing is for sure - we can't play in high summer in Africa because it is too hot. The tensions can be massive at the clubs, though. Here at Reading I am close to the gaffer, who understands the situation, but that is not the case everywhere. One of my Senegal teammates [Souleymane] Diawara is having a few problems. He used to play for Charlton but went to Bordeaux and he agreed with the club when they signed him that he would not go [to the African Nations]. After that he decided that he should be playing for his country and Bordeaux are not happy. When he comes back he is going to have trouble.

I don't think it is fair on the players. You cannot ask a player to choose between club and country. You would not ask Steven Gerrard not to play for England for the sake of Liverpool. You don't choose where you are born. You just choose to be a footballer.

It means a lot to play for Senegal this time around because I refused for the last few years so I could focus on Reading. If it hadn't been for Reading, I would not have been given a chance in the Senegalese team, so I had to give something back. I also felt that as long as I was playing at the highest level for Reading I would have the chance to play for my country again. If Reading were to fall away from the top level, the Senegalese team might forget about me, so I wanted to make sure Reading were fine first.

I am not worried about struggling to get back into the team. I have no problem with going away, maybe losing my place, as long as the team is playing well. It is worth taking the risk because I want to play for my country.

Mark Bright, Former Crystal Palace striker now BBC summariser

The Confederation of African Football puts the competition on when it believes the best possible conditions will be available. They are dealing with massive variations in climate and temperature across a huge continent. I have covered the last three tournaments and, if we think of football as a winter game, then conditions have been hot by those standards in all of them.

I've played in South Africa in our pre-season, as they are coming out of winter at that time, and the climate is slightly raised from ours in winter, so it's pleasant at that time of year. It is going to be hot in Ghana when the tournament kicks off this month because it is so close to the equator. This time of year, though, is the best for all the nations involved.

People forget the African Cup of Nations is a big deal. It is the equivalent of the European Championship and this one will mark its 26th year. It can hardly be dismissed as a Mickey Mouse competition that is less important than the Premier League. Obviously, with the influx of African players into our league, the fact that the tournament falls halfway through the season is not going to suit everybody. Many clubs - I think there are 45 to 50 players across the English leagues - will be aff ected.

At Arsenal Emmanuel Adebayor will not be going because Togo did not qualify but Arsène Wenger will still lose Emmanuel Eboué and Kolo Touré to the Ivory Coast. When Wenger was asked about its impact on Arsenal's season he said the tournament should be held every four years rather than every two and in the European summer. But that does not suit, regardless of the weather conditions, because the players involved would have a never-ending season. Two years ago Chelsea's Didier Drogba played in the league, domestic cups , the Champions League, the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations. The football was non-stop but given CAF are unlikely to downgrade the tournament to every four years, it would be that much worse for the players if the African Cup of Nations was at the end of a season biennially.

What all of this amounts to is the fact that there is nowhere else better to put the tournament in the calendar. Fifa cannot come up with anything different. The African Cup of Nations is not the only tournament held at this time; we have to send teams to the World Club Championship and we manage to do that. It is a packed calendar and the timing is as good as it is going to get.

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