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The Africa Cup of Nations will kick-off on Friday evening with the much-anticipated match between the Egyptian Pharaohs and the Zimbabwe Warriors.
The tournament is historic for several reasons including the fact that 24 teams are participating for the first time, and it is being held in the June/July window rather than January/February.
In this article, we’ll share updates and developments ahead of the tournament opener including the following;
Expectations for the opening ceremony
The opening ceremony of the tournament will be graced by several high profile personalities including FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Nigeria’s legendary musician Femi Kuti.
Femi Kuti, will perform the official song of this year’s AFCON, along with Egypt’s Hakim and Ivory Coast’s Dobet Gnahore.
The official song is titled ‘Metgameen’ which translates as ‘We Are Together’.
Cameroon players strike
Cameroon players had still not left their hotel in the capital, Yaounde to board a flight to Egypt, because of a pay dispute.
The reigning champions are set to start the tournament on Tuesday in a match against Guinea-Bissau, but the players did not appear for their flight on Thursday evening amid a spat over bonus payments.
“The Lions are still in Yaounde. They did not agree with their managers on the amount of their premiums,” the spokeswoman told Reuters.
Ministry of sports spokesman Gabriel Nloga said the players had each been paid a bonus of 20 million CFA francs ($34,635). A source at Cameroon’s soccer federation said the players had asked for twice that.
Pay disputes before major competitions are not unusual for African soccer federations who often do not have sufficient resources to pay their player's high sums. Nigeria and Ghana have experienced similar problems in recent World Cups.
How AFCON works
The 24 teams at the tournament have been placed in six groups, and they will be playing to get one of 16 slots available for the knockout stages.
The winners and runners-up in each group and the best four third-place teams, qualify for the second round.
Stars to watch
Egypt’s star forwards Mohamed Salah will be one of the main attractions for fans at home and across the continent.
The Liverpool forward, who recently made history as a Champions League winner with Liverpool, is a key player for the home side, and will be under pressure to help the Egyptian Pharaohs win a record eighth title.
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