African Cup pushed back 6 days because of Ramadan

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah controls the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Crystal Palace at Anfield in Liverpool, England, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

CAIRO — This year's African Cup of Nations in Egypt has been pushed back by six days to cater for Ramadan and allow Muslim players time to rest and recover after a month of fasting.

The Confederation of African Football said Monday the tournament will now kick off on June 21 instead of June 15. The final was put back six days to July 19. The move came after a request from a group of North African nations and CAF approved the delay at a special executive committee meeting on Saturday.

Some of Africa's biggest stars, including Egypt forward Mohamed Salah and Senegal winger Sadio Mane, are Muslims.

Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, making it difficult for their teams to train or play. This year, Ramadan ends on June 4 and the move by CAF gives Muslim players nearly a week extra to prepare for Africa's top tournament.

This is the first year the African Cup will be held in June and July, coinciding with the European leagues' offseason and falling in line with other major tournaments like the World Cup and European Championship. This is also the first year the African Cup will be increased from 16 to 24 teams.

CAF confirmed April 12 as the date for the tournament draw, which will take place in front of the Sphinx and the pyramids in Giza.

The African soccer body also resolved complications with qualifying after Cameroon was stripped as host of the African Cup because of poor preparations and security concerns.

Cameroon, which is the defending champion, lost its automatic place at the tournament as host and must now qualify. To do that, Cameroon must avoid losing to Comoros at home in the final round of qualifying in March. If Comoros wins, it will make its debut and the African Cup will be played without the reigning champion.

Fourteen countries have already qualified, including first-time participants Madagascar and Mauritania.

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