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.
— #TotalEnergiesAFCON2021 (@CAF_Online) January 5, 2022
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.”
Fact of the day: a group of sharks are called a shiver.
— #TotalEnergiesAFCON2021 (@CAF_Online) January 7, 2022
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.
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