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CAF Faces a Serious Issue With the Quality of the Pitches as the Quarterfinals Loom

The quarterfinals are set to kick off with Burkina Faso/Tunisia and Senegal/Cameroon, preparing for Saturday’s showdown while DR Congo/Ghana and Egypt/Morocco, will play on Sunday as they challenge for a spot in the semifinals.

However, certain teams face a bit of concern some more alarming than others, as coaches are worried about the growing rate of injuries.

Egypt was hit by three injuries, two for goal keepers, Ahmed El Shennawy (hamstring strain against Mali) and third choice Sherif Ekramy (treated for a hamstring strain in training) while midfielder, Omar Gaber was also injured during a practice session.

Meanwhile, Ghana is faced with fears over the physical health of main striker, Asamoah Gyan.

Gyan was substituted 40 minutes into the last group game and the captain’s early exit to a groin injury, had an impact on the Black Star’s 1-0 loss to Egypt.

The poor conditions of the pitches are centering the blame with coaches criticizing the playing turf since the opening games.

“We are not enjoying the best of pitches here. In my opinion, I think the training pitches are even better than the main stadia that we play on,” Maxwell Konadu, Ghana assistant coach told TV3.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”This is something we all hope CAF will do something about, improve the pitches for our great stars who are playing all over the world.”[/perfectpullquote]

You can imagine the frustration when players cannot keep the ball down, make a pass without the worry of it wobbling around, or run around in a water-logged field hopping the ball can stay in its intended path.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”The pitch is horrendous, it’s really tough to control the ball, to drive the ball, everything is tough,”[/perfectpullquote]

said Mali and Crystal Palace midfielder, Bakary Sako.

The gap in quality is left wanting and probably why the tournament does not get the hype or player dedication it deserves.

“If the game is not attractive because of the pitch, it means something,” former Cameroon international goalkeeper, Joseph-Antoine Bell told BBC Sport.

“Pitches are just about thinking and having the money – CAF must think about it.

“Africa likes to be told ‘oh you have tried’, but it’s not about doing your best, it’s about being the best,” Bell added.

Port Gentil where Mali played, was in such bad condition that organizers had to improvise an artificial pitch in the dressing rooms for warm-ups, out of fears that the surface was rendered unfit.

Tunisia’s defender, Syam Ben Youssef displayed little hope in the quality of the surface that before the game against Zimbabwe in Libreville, he suggested that the team contemplated a change of playing style.

The impact is felt throughout that Ghana’s Abdul Rahman Baba, who sustained a serious knee injury against Uganda, could be sidelined for as long as six months or more which is also frustrating for his club.

Gyan’s fitness will judge the extent of his injury should Ghana progress to the semifinals but coach Avram Grant is not comfortable with the conditions of the pitches and even called for a compassionate replacement for teams facing a rapid drain of players.

“I will be honest with everyone. AFCON is a major competition like Euros and the Copa America.

“Of course, we all want to win for the countries we represent,” Grant said in a press conference during the group stage games.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”We need to give the players the best platforms for them to perform well. People are putting in a lot of efforts but a lot more must be done.[/perfectpullquote]

“So far, five players have received injuries due to the pitch and so the tournament organizers need to relax the rules and allow teams to replace the injured players.

“I know Ghanaians will be unhappy with what I will say, but Egypt has lost two goalkeepers because of the pitch.

“They need to have those players replaced. I think it is unfair to have them play without those two players. They need to bring in other goalkeepers. It is unfair and unsportsmanlike,” Grant added.

Burkina Faso also lost two crucial players in Jonathan Pitroipa and Jonathan Zongo and while this is a growing issue ahead of the final, players can only manage to the best of their abilities, leaving the potential spectacle of the tournament elusive.

“To be honest it is very hard to play on that kind of a field because you can’t control your running and stopping. So it’s difficult.

“But we are in Africa and we are Africans so we’ll do our best for our country,” Burkina Faso midfielder, Adama Guira said unhappily.

After all, like Khalilou Fadiga said, “Let the players not expect the pitches in Africa to be like those in Europe.”

The former Senegal international now on CAF’s technical and development committee, commented on the likely future of Africa’s prestigious competition.



Featured photo: Ghana and Chelsea defender Baba Rahman (on loan at Schalke), seriously damaged his knee after suffering an injury while playing for Ghana at the 2017 AFCON. (GETTY IMAGES)


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