The African Nations Championship is a relatively new tournament, set to occur on the years when an African Cup of Nations does not take place. It was first contested in 2009 in the Ivory Coast. Only 8 teams contested the finals, with just 36 of 54 CAF nations participating in the process. The tournament has since grown to a 16 team final, but still, only 43 of 54 nations were involved in the process for the 2016 tournament.
And we’re not just talking teams that are minnows in the CAF landscape. Algeria, Egypt, and Cape Verde were all absent from qualifying, and have been for a number of editions. Many other teams do not enter the tournament for financial reasons. While teams take the competition seriously, it clearly does not fall very high on a priority list within a confederation.
The major problem with the African Nations Championship is the restriction placed on eligible players. Only players competing in a domestic league are eligible to participate. Take a look at the big teams in CAF: Ghana, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Cape Verde (even Morocco and Burkina Faso). Virtually nobody that features in the senior team for any of these nations plies their trade domestically. Not coincidentally, only Ivory Coast and Cameroon, of these big boys, reached the knockout stage of the 2016 tournament.
Now, it’s understandable that CAF wants to host a tournament that “levels the playing field”. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. There is, however, a major problem with the tournament. It counts towards the FIFA Rankings. And not only that, every match in qualification and the finals is classified as a “friendly”. Friendlies are worth 60% less in the rankings than a continental qualifier, 66% less than a continental final, and 75% less than a World Cup match. They count, but they’re worth far less.
FIFA actually published a circular detailing what qualifies to be included in the FIFA Rankings. You can read that here: FIFA Circular
According to Jéröme Valcke, “FIFA defines an international “A” match as a match between two FIFA members for which both members field their first representative team (“A” team). The FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is based on a list of all international “A” matches that are recognized by FIFA.”
Now, are these nations really fielding their “first representative team”? The last time a finalist for the African Footballer of the Year played his club football in his home country was Mohamed Aboutrika of Egypt, in 2008. Before that, it hadn’t been since 1990 that a finalist played in his home country. In the past 25 years, a total of 1 African Footballer of the Year finalist played his club football in the country he represented at the national team level.
With all of these players ineligible to compete in this tournament, I don’t think any logical person would have you believe that the participating nations send out their “first representative team”. We’ve reached out to FIFA in the past regarding this inclusion. And they have stood firm that these matches are part of, and will continue to be a part of, the FIFA rankings.
So the matches count towards the FIFA Rankings. Why should federations care? Believe it or not, this tournament has an effect on teams’ odds to qualify for the World Cup. Friendlies can help boost your FIFA Ranking. But when participating in qualification and a finals tournament, an oversaturation of friendlies on your record does nothing but weigh you down. But again, why would a team care that their FIFA Ranking may suffer?
This June, the final 20 teams from CAF still in contention for the World Cup will be drawn into 5 groups of 4 teams. The way teams are allocated into pots is based on the FIFA Ranking (presumably June).
Here’s what we project the pots to look like for the draw:
This seems pretty reasonable. Most of the heavy hitters are in Pot 1, with some more in Pot 2. Of the top 7 teams, 3 did not participate in the African Nations Championship at all. 2 more did not reach the finals. It is not a coincidence that these teams are towards the top.
We also went back and removed all of the CHAN qualifiers and finals matches from the FIFA Rankings. Without the matches, here’s what we’d project the pots to look like for the draw:
Not a huge difference overall. A bunch of teams shuffle around. Tunisia replaces Senegal in Pot 1. Zambia replaces Mali in Pot 3. Note that these are projections. Things may shift as well depending on results ahead of June, but this is our best guess.
Before we go any further, yes, we have Algeria on the outside looking in for the time being. These are our current odds to reach the World Cup, and the odds we would have given a team to qualify if the African Nations Championship matches were not a part of the FIFA Rankings.
Again, you’ll notice there’s really not all that much difference across the board. Zambia falls, as they fall to Pot 4. The major development was the flip flop of Senegal and Tunisia. Senegal and Ivory Coast, our two highest ranked CAF teams, see their odds go way up as a result of being in the same pot. Since they cannot draw each other, they each see their odds to qualify increase. Conversely, Tunisia’s odds to qualify for the World Cup go down by 4%, as they must be drawn with a top team from Pot 1.
4% doesn’t seem like that large of a drop in odds to reach the World Cup. But looking more closely, Tunisia falls from having the 4th highest odds to qualify to the 6th highest odds to qualify. Only 5 teams from Africa reach the World Cup. And as a result, Tunisia goes from projected to make the World Cup, to projected to miss the World Cup. All as a result of competing in the African Nations Championship.
Odds will reshuffle once the groups are drawn, and it may turn out that Tunisia navigates a group and reaches the World Cup. But given what we know, this tournament is doing more harm than good, especially for Tunisia.
And remember, teams can always schedule strategically to give themselves the best chance possible to reach a higher pot and increase qualifying odds. Providing that guidance is what we do best! Feel free to reach out.