Africa Cup of Nations matches to go ahead if teams have 11 players available as tournament's Covid-19 rules confirmed

AFCON 2021 begins on Sunday when hosts Cameron face Burkina Faso in Group A at 4pm GMT; all 52 games throughout the competition will be shown live across Sky Sports; tournament concludes with the final on Sunday February 6

Image: Hosts Cameroon face Burkina Faso in Sunday's opening match on Sky Sports

Africa Cup of Nations organisers have confirmed teams will have to play matches provided they have 11 players available, should they be depleted by Covid-19 cases.

Cameroon's match against Burkina Faso on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, will start the tournament, which features 52 fixtures, and the rules have been clarified about how teams will cope with absentees due to Covid-19.

Countries will be required to play a match if they have a minimum of 11 players who have tested negative, while in the absence of a goalkeeper, an outfield player from the team must replace the goalkeeper.

Any country that does not have a minimum of 11 players available will be considered to have lost the match 0-2.

Organisers have also outlined that each team will be permitted to use a maximum of five substitutes, with a maximum of three opportunities to make substitutions during the game.

Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez helped Algeria win the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019 (AP)
Image: Algeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019

Where extra time is played, teams will each be allowed one additional substitution, and will have one additional substitution opportunity.

Algeria are the reigning champions after a 1-0 final victory over Senegal when the competition was left held in Egypt in 2019.

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Djemba-Djemba: This rule needs to change

On Saturday, Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly tested positive for COVID-19, according to his club Napoli, and is self-isolating while on national team duty.

Meanwhile, according to an ESPN report, Burkina Faso have returned five positive COVID-19 tests on the eve of their AFCON opener against hosts Cameroon.

Foto Alessandro Garofalo/LaPresse .31 ottobre  2021 Salerno, Italia .sport calcio .Salernitana vs Napoli  - Campionato di calcio Serie A Tim 2021/2022 - Stadio Arechi..Nella foto: Kalidou Koulibaly (SSC Napoli);  espulso ..Photo Alessandro Garofalo/LaPresse .October  31, 2021 Salerno, Italy .sport soccer .Salernitana vs Napoli - Italian Football Championship League league  A  2021/2022 - Arechi stadium..In the pic: Kalidou Koulibaly (SSC Napoli);  red card
Image: Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly has tested positive for coronavirus

Former Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba believes organisers are wrong to make matches go ahead with a minimum of 11 players.

He told Sky Sports News: "It's a shame because if you have 11 players testing positive for Covid you cannot play.

"They need to change the rule.

"I think FIFA need to say something about it because it's very difficult for the players and the national teams.

"I hope Burkina Faso will try to play because it's the beginning of AFCON, but it's very hard to play like that."

Why is the tournament happening now?

This Africa Cup of Nations was scheduled to be played in 2021 and a year-long delay because of the pandemic hasn't really achieved that much.

The tournament will go ahead with virus cases surging again around the world, driven this time by the omicron variant. Because of that, only fans who are fully vaccinated and can show proof of a negative virus test will be allowed into any of the six stadiums in five host cities to watch games.

In a country like Cameroon, where less than three per cent of the population of 26m are fully vaccinated, only a small minority of people are therefore eligible to witness the tournament first-hand.

On top of that, crowds will be limited to 60 per cent of a stadium's capacity, or 80 per cent for games involving host nation Cameroon.

There's a possibility that many games will be at near-empty stadiums, although that isn't new for AFCON.

The build-up has seen virus outbreaks in many of the teams heading to Cameroon. The Confederation of African Football and local authorities have a large challenge on their hands to ensure the virus doesn't overwhelm the event.

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