Soccer Sideshow Now Takes Centre Stage

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Written By Mostafa Moradi

The Africa Cup of Nations was once one of international football’s sideshows, but now the world takes the contest more seriously as many top players are stars in major leagues.

This year’s competition takes place in Gabon between January 14 and February 5.

The 16 nations taking part are split into four groups, with eight progressing to the knock-out stages as quarter finalists.

The draft of players will have a major impact on European clubs, who rely heavily on African imports to swell their numbers.

Progress in the competition means some players will miss key games, while others will return to their clubs carrying injuries.

Africa Cup of Nations 2017

The countries taking part are:

Group A

  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Gabon
  • Guinea-Bissau

Group B

  • Algeria
  • Senegal
  • Tunisia
  • Zimbabwe

Group C

  • Congo DR
  • Ivory Coast
  • Morocco
  • Togo

Group D

  • Egypt
  • Ghana
  • Mali
  • Uganda

Defending champions are the Ivory Coast, bolstered by several English Premier League players, including Eric Bailly (Manchester United), Lamine Kone (Sunderland), Wilfried Bony (Stoke City), Max Gradel (Bournemouth), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace).

While Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez, both of Leicester City are expected to stay for the entire tournament as key strikers for tournament favourites Algeria.

Impact on English Premier League

The absence of these players means that their Premier League teams will play seven games without them – and possibly more if they are injured.

For title challengers Chelsea, the news that some of their rivals are weakened is welcome, but the bigger impact will be at the bottom of the league, where Crystal Palace, Hull City and Sunderland are fighting for survival.

For mid table teams such as West Ham, Everton, Watford, the impact is less of a problem, although every team wants to finish as high in the league as possible as more TV cash is awarded according to league position.

The Africa Cup of Nations takes place every two years compared with every four years for competitions like the World Cup and European Championships.

The winning team will take part in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia later in the year alongside teams from Portugal, Germany, Russia, Australasia and Mexico. The cup competition is a warm-up for the World Cup 2018 in Russia.