CAN 2022: Covid-19 disrupts the preparation of many teams

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While due to meet President Adama Barrow this Thursday, January 6 for the handing over of the Gambian flag, Tom Saintfiet is trying to remain calm before joining Cameroon on Friday, two days before the kick-off of the Coupe d Africa of Nations (CAN). The coach of the Scorpions, who will participate for the first time in the continental tournament, had decided to carry out the preparation course in Doha in order to benefit from the quality of the infrastructure of the country which will organize the 2022 World Cup. But the Gambians’ stay in Qatar has turned into a nightmare, as the Belgian technician tells World Africa.

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Two friendly matches, against Algeria on Saturday and Syria on Wednesday, had to be canceled due to the unavailability of 16 Gambian players out of 28. In addition to injuries and travel restrictions affecting some footballers retained in Europe by their clubs, several members of the workforce were affected by Covid-19 while “Almost everyone is vaccinated”, laments Tom Saintfiet: “For example, one of my assistants was infected when he had received his three doses. During the whole internship, I was not able to work normally with the players. In some sessions, there were only twelve available. “

Travel restrictions

The Covid-19 epidemic has had consequences for many teams participating in the CAN. Thus, several friendly matches have been canceled, often at the last moment, such as the one which was to oppose Côte d’Ivoire to Comoros in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) on Monday, several players from both selections having tested positive. Gabon and Mauritania, for their part, learned belatedly that they could not face Uganda in the United Arab Emirates as planned on December 30 and January 2. “We were informed two days before that Ugandans could not travel due to travel restrictions due to the health context. Fortunately, we were able to arrange a match against Burkina Faso on the same date ”, relates Patrice Neveu, the French coach of the Gabonese Panthers.

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Senegal meanwhile postponed its departure for Cameroon from Wednesday to Thursday after the discovery of at least three cases in its workforce (Habib Diallo, Saliou Ciss and Mamadou Loum Ndiaye). Nigeria recorded the forfeit of Victor Osimhen, their best striker, while Tunisia, deprived of Youssef Msakni and Seifeddine Jaziri, called off in extremis his friendly against Sierra Leone on Friday. And Cape Verde has just announced, three days before the match against Ethiopia, that three of its players (Marco Soares, Lisandro Semedo and Willis Furtado) as well as its coach, Pedro Leitao Brito, are positive for Covid-19 .

On the Cameroonian side, four players (Pierre Kunde, Michael Ngadeu, Christian Bassogog and Jean Efala) contracted the virus but were able to resume training after a period of quarantine. Algeria, reigning African champion, was not spared since Youcef Belaïli, Houcine Benayada and Mohamed Amine Tougaï were infected. “We suppose that other selections were affected but that they preferred not to communicate », specifies an agent who organizes friendly matches.

A strict health protocol

To avoid a surge in contaminations at the time of the competition, Cameroon and the African Football Confederation (CAF) have drawn up a very strict health protocol. People who wish to attend a match will not only need to be vaccinated, but also provide a PCR test dating back less than 48 hours before kick-off. CAF has also decided that the stadiums cannot be filled beyond 80% for the matches of the Cameroonian team and 60% for the others.

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Despite the multiplication of cases and to the chagrin of some coaches, CAF refuses that the lists of players selected for the CAN, closed on December 30, can be changed. “It’s deplorable: CAF and FIFA protect European clubs by granting them exemptions so that they release the players later, but we do not respect the work of the selections. Some will not be able to replace their players affected by the Covid-19 », indignant Tom Saintfiet, who, on the social networks of the Gambian federation, did not hesitate to speak of a « catastrophe ».

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CAN 2022: Covid-19 disrupts the preparation of many teams