VAR system to be used from quarter-finals
CAIRO, July 9, (RTRS): Two of African football’s more consistent performers of recent years, Algeria and Senegal, look on course to meet in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations final and reprise an exciting clash from earlier in the tournament.
The two countries have emerged as favourites to reach the July 19 final as the tournament reaches the quarter-final stage on Wednesday, devoid of its hosts and facing the embarrassing spectre of near empty stadiums.
Senegal’s path to the final looks a modest task for one of the strongest squads in the competition, but Algeria face a tough examination of their credentials if they are to play the title decider at Cairo International Stadium.
The Algerians must first overcome the Ivory Coast on Thursday and, if successful, take on either Nigeria or South Africa in the semifinal on Sunday.
But four successive victories at the tournament in Egypt have emphasised not only Algeria’s potential, but also emboldened a side whose technical ability is often sunk by a fragile mentality.
Riyad Mahrez has led a team that plays a high energy game, have yet to concede and have proven adept finishers, making them an anomaly in a tournament again characterised by a poor conversion rate.
They deservedly beat Senegal 1-0 in their group game on June 27 in a major boost to their confidence and their 3-0 demolition of Guinea in Sunday’s last-16 match was arguably the best performance by any team at the tournament.
“Algeria have shown that they are good at all levels. They are very powerful. They are the best team at the moment,” said losing coach Paul Put.
Senegal’s half of the draw has been weakened by a string of upsets with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Morocco all exiting at the first knockout stage.
Senegal meet minnows Benin in the first of the quarter-finals on Wednesday and are overwhelming favourites to progress to a semi-final clash against either rookies Madagascar or a tepid Tunisia.
On the schedule, the showcase quarter-final was reserved for late on Wednesday at the Cairo International Stadium, where Egypt would have been in action in front of a sellout crowd.
But it is likely now that a near empty stadium will provide a deflating backdrop to the mouthwatering clash between South Africa, conquerors of Egypt on Saturday, and Nigeria, who dumped holders Cameroon out the same day.
Nigeria have dominated past meetings between the continent’s two economic giants but South Africa delivered an unexpectedly competent performance to deservedly knock out the hosts.
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system will be introduced from the quarter-final stage of the Africa Cup of Nations, increasing the possibility of drama in a tournament traditionally filled with refereeing controversy but this year rather muted.
It was originally planned to use VAR from the semifinal stage but it will now be brought in from the last-eight games.
Several marginally offside calls and an erroneous handball decision, which Ghana felt might have contributed to their early exit from the tournament, have been the extent of controversy in Egypt this year in a triumph for the battered reputation of African referees.
VAR has not been extensively used on the continent but it has produced situations which have tarnished the game’s image and been part of the administrative malaise that caused FIFA to step in and take over the running of the Confederation of African Football from next month.
The second leg of the African Champions League final was abandoned in May in a row over the absence of the technology when it had been scheduled to be used.
When the referee disallowed an effort by Wydad Casablanca, they stormed off in protest that VAR had not been consulted, even though they had been told before the game that the system was not operational.
The referee of the first leg was banned for six months after he made controversial calls after consulting VAR. This was deemed, however, to be a knee-jerk reaction by CAF and the suspension of Gehad Grisha was later lifted.
CAF president Ahmad Ahmad said not using the VAR system in the opening rounds was a “measure of prudence”.
“Those countries that use VAR did not rush into it from the start. It’s a technology that a lot of people don’t completely use yet,” he told reporters before the tournament.