✳ AFCON 2021 qualifying
⏺ Wednesday 10pm – Burkina Faso 🇧🇫 vs Uganda Cranes 🇺🇬
⏺ Nov. 17, 2019 – Uganda Cranes 🇺🇬 vs Malawi Flames 🇲🇼
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso | THE INDEPENDENT & AFP | New Uganda Cranes coach Johnathan McKinstry can count himself a very lucky man.
His team flew chartered on the new Uganda Airlines early today to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso as 2021 Cup of Nations (CAN) qualifying starts. It hopefully marks the end of travel woes that have previously undermined the Uganda Cranes efforts to make a mark on the continent.
Uganda plays Burkina Faso tomorrow, and four days later hosts Malawi. Previously, a trip to West Africa would have meant leaving Uganda three days earlier, flying through Europe or Middle East, before getting to Burkina Faso a day before the game. It would also have meant leaving Burkina Faso soon after the game, are reaching Entebbe a night before the Malawi game.
Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) currently led by acting President Justus Mugisha, have taken full advantage of the return of Uganda Airlines and chartered a flight to West Africa. The left early today, and will be back in Uganda hours after the final whistle on Wednesday night.
Africa Cup of Nations matchday 1 fixtures Matchday 1
Wednesday, Nov 13
Malawi v South Sudan, Central African Republic v Burundi (both 1300), Namibia v Chad, Cameroon v Cape Verde, Nigeria v Benin, Guinea-Bissau v eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Sierra Leone v Lesotho (all 1600), Sudan v Sao Tome e Principe, Angola v Gambia, Burkina Faso v Uganda, Senegal v Congo Brazzaville (all 1900)
Thursday, Nov 14
Egypt v Kenya, Mozambique v Rwanda, Togo v Comoros (all 1600), Democratic Republic of Congo v Gabon Algeria (holders) v Zambia, Ghana v South Africa, Mali v Guinea (all 1900)
Friday, Nov 15
Tanzania v Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe v Botswana (both 1600), Morocco v Mauritania, Tunisia v Libya (both 1900)
Saturday, Nov 16
Madagascar v Ethiopia (1300), Ivory Coast v Niger (1900)
Elsewhere on the continent, English Premier League sharpshooters Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah flew to Africa this week, seeking goals as the 2021 Cup of Nations (CAN) qualifying kicks off.
New Arsenal captain Aubameyang has claimed eight league goals this season and Liverpool duo Mane and Salah seven and six respectively, putting the trio among the top 10 scorers.
The form of Gabonese Aubameyang, Senegalese Mane and Egyptian Salah will encourage their nations as they face two matches each between this Wednesday and next Tuesday.
Mane, who is looking good to succeed two-time winner Salah as African Footballer of the Year, will be first into action with Senegal hosting Congo Brazzaville in this Wednesday.
Having scored for Liverpool in a 3-1 triumph over reigning champions Manchester City Sunday and travelled to Dakar Monday, Mane will have little time to prepare for the Group I clash.
Fortunately for 2019 Cup of Nations silver medalists Senegal, whose defence is marshaled by Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, Congo have not impressed recently.
Any outcome other than a comfortable win for Senegal would be surprising as the nation currently ranked first in Africa launch another attempt to win a maiden Cup of Nations title.
Aubameyang and Salah play Thursday with Gabon away to central African neighbours the Democratic Republic of Congo in Group D and Egypt at home to Kenya in Group G.
Salah will work with recently appointed Egypt coach Hossam el Badry for the first time, having missed a warm-up win over Botswana last month because of an injury.
El Badry succeeded Mexican Javier Aguirre, who was sacked after the Pharaohs flopped as 2019 Cup of Nations hosts, losing to South Africa at the last-16 stage.
Another Premier League star available to the new coach is Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan, who scored for Aston Villa in a weekend defeat at Wolves.
– Unhappy memories –
Kenya appeared at a Cup of Nations this year for the first time since 2004 and edged Tanzania between group losses to eventual champions Algeria and runners-up Senegal.
Aubameyang, the son of a former international, and Gabon have unhappy memories of recent Cup of Nations.
— FUFA (@OfficialFUFA) November 12, 2019
They could not win any of three 2017 group matches despite being hosts and made a humiliating first round exit before faring even worse in the following edition by failing to qualify.
Aubameyang struggled for form in Africa and refused to travel from Gabon to South Sudan for a 2019 qualifier because he believed the chartered aircraft was unsafe.
Only a handful of countries leave DR Congo capital Kinshasa with maximum points and a realistic target for new Gabon coach Patrick Neveu would be a draw.
Algeria star Riyad Mahrez has managed only two Premier League goals for Manchester City this season and was an unused substitute at Liverpool.
The ‘Desert Foxes’ hope this will not affect his performance when the trophy-holders host shock 2012 African champions Zambia, who failed to qualify for the last two Cup of Nations, in Group H.
Nigeria, third at the 2019 Cup of Nations, have called up Premier League midfielders Alex Iwobi of Everton and Wilfred Ndidi from second-place Leicester City to face Benin in Uyo.
Saudi Arabia-based captain Ahmed Musa returns for the Group L match after missing a friendly draw with Brazil in Singapore due to injury.
Although Ghana are the third most successful country in the Cup of Nations with four titles, the last came 37 years ago when Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew was a teenager.
Now retired after an illustrious career, he will watch England-based sons Andre and Jordan tackle unpredictable South Africa in Group C in Cape Coast.