FIFA Approves New AFCON Date, Obliges European Clubs To Release Players For Tourney

FIFA has ratified the decision of the Confederation of Africa Football to stage the Africa Cup of Nations in January 2022.

The tournament was originally scheduled for June 2021 in Cameroon but was moved up to January due to local climatic conditions before being postponed by a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

FIFA’s confirmation of the new date comes as the world body unveiled a new window for international matches in January 2022 as World Cup qualifying fixtures continue to pile up because of the pandemic.

World football’s ruling body said in a statement that the window was ratified by the decision-making FIFA Council on Thursday.

It applies to all continents apart from Europe, will last from 24 January 24 to 1 February 2022, and means European clubs will be obliged to release their players during that period.

FIFA has also agreed that the CONCACAF Gold Cup will take place from 10 July to 1 August next year.

Apart from this month’s UEFA Nations League matches, international football has been on hold since March because of the pandemic, causing widespread disruption to the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the 2021 AFCON.

CAF announced a revised schedule for both campaigns last month, with the Super Eagles set to resume their 2021 AFCON qualifying campaign in November, while their bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup will start in May.

The African body disclosed that the third and fourth round of 2021 AFCON qualifiers will now take place between 9-17 November with the fifth and final round scheduled for 22-30 March 2021.

Nigeria lead Group L and are well placed to qualify for the continental showpiece having won their first two qualifiers against the Benin Republic in Uyo and Lesotho in Maseru.

The three-time African champions face the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone in a doubleheader before rounding up against the Squirrels of Benin away from home and Crocodiles of Lesotho in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers will now kick-off in May 2021 and end in October 2021.

The qualifiers which have a new format was originally supposed to begin in November.

The campaign will see forty teams divided into ten groups of four will battle for the chance to qualify for the last phase.

Group winners will then face-off in a straight knockout for one of five slots at what will be the first-ever World Cup to be held in November.

Nigeria have been drawn alongside Cape Verde, Central African Republic, and Liberia.