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CAF to Decide Fate of African Matches Threatened by Political Turmoil

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) is set to decide the fate of Egypt’s African qualifier against South Africa as well as of the U-20 African championship and home matches in Libya and Algeria in the wake of the political turmoil sweeping North Africa. CAF together with FIFA president Sepp Blatter will meet on Thursday in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on the side lines of the second African Cup of Nations for Home-Based Players (CHAN 2011). CAF President Issa Hayatou and Blatter are scheduled to announce at a news conference on Friday what consequence the turmoil will have for African soccer. Tunisia, which last month sparked the wave of protests wracking the Middle East and North Africa with the toppling of President Zine Abedine Ben Ali, on Tuesday beat Algeria, which also is witnessing mass anti-government protests, 5:3 to qualify for the CHAN 2011 final against Angola. CAF will almost certainly seek an alternative venue for the U-20 championship, which is scheduled to open in Libya on March 18. Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadaffi in an angry, rambling televised speech vowed to continue to the bitter end his brutal crackdown which has already led to the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Beyond security concerns, international condemnation of the use of snipers, heavy machine guns and fighter aircraft in the crackdown makes Libya a virtually unacceptable venue. Analysts say South Africa, which last year made its mark as host of the World Cup and the African Women’s Nations Cup, would be the most likely alternative to Libya. "We are evaluating the situation right now, so there is no point rushing into taking a decision for matches that are happening in one month," said CAF interim secretary general Hicham El Amrani. FIFA last week rescheduled a 2012 Olympic qualifier between Yemen and Singapore because of mass protests wracking Yemen. A rescheduling of Egypt’s crucial qualifier against South Africa is likely to prove the most controversial issue CAF has to resolve. The South African Football Association (SAFA) has rejected Egyptian suggestions that the match scheduled for March 27 should be postponed until June to give Egypt time to prepare. SAFA officials say there is no reason to postpone the match given that it is scheduled to be played in South Africa rather than Egypt. Egypt argues that it needs more time because all league matches remain suspended since late January as a result of protests that earlier this month toppled President Hosni Mubarak. An Egyptian failure to defeat South Africa would almost certainly end the three-time African champion’s hopes to qualify for the 2012 African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. CAF is likely to move next month’s qualifier between Libya and the Comoros scheduled to be played in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Less clear is whether the African soccer body will also move the March qualifier between Algeria in Morocco that is to be played in Algiers. CAF may find it difficult to let the match go ahead as planned in a country where anti-government protests have also forced the suspension of professional league matches. Any rescheduled matches would probably be played between June 3 and 7, the slot available on FIFA's international calendar for return games. The one match CAF is certain to leave untouched is the February 27 return game in Cairo between storied Cairo club FC Zamalek SC and Kenya’s Ulinzi Stars. The match will be the first soccer game in Egypt since the suspension of professional league games. Zamalek beat the Stars in a controversial match in late January in Nairobi played as protesters, including Zamalek fans, were in the streets of Egyptian cities demanding Mubarak’s ouster. Some Zamalek coaches and players joined the protests after the team’s return to Cairo. The Egyptian military, in what amounts to a test case, has agreed to allow the match to be played with spectators. The military, which rules Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster, has refused to lift the ban on league matches because it fears the soccer pitch could become a rallying point for protesters eager to ensure that it keeps its promise to lead Egypt to democracy within six months. “I want to thank the armed forces because they accepted our request and granted us permission to host the game at home. I think the crowd attendance at the Ulinzi game could be the gate towards having the domestic league back in action,” said Hassan Ibrahim, a Zamalek board member. Ibrahim is believed to have close ties to the military. His word carries weight because of his controversial support for Mubarak, a former air force commander, during the protests that led to the president’s resignation. Some Egyptian Premier League clubs fear that the pro-longed suspension will lead to a cancellation of this season’s competition. “The fact that the FA (Egyptian Football Association) remained undecided about the date raises doubts that the season could be called off. The players are starting to get worried and their motivation level in training is affected by the uncertainty,” Ahmed Qenawi, the assistant coach of Ismailia SC, said.

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