Former Senegal and Liverpool FC forward, El Hadji Diouf, 38, has warned countries going for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt to be prepared for bruising battles as the elongation of teams from 16 to 24 will make it more difficult than previous tournaments.
Speaking at the weekend in Lagos shortly after featuring for African All Stars versus Naija Legends in the testimonial match for outgoing Lagos Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Diouf stressed that now teams are going to play more matches than before.
“It is going to be more difficult now with 24 teams. Countries have more teams to play in the competition now unlike in previous tournament. What that means is that chances of getting knocked out early is very obvious,” observed the Senegalese who led the Teranga Lions to their first ever quarter final appearance at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.
While not dismissing the prospects of host Egypt lifting the trophy with the arrays of stars in the current Pharaohs’ squad, Diouf however observed that the Egyptians will be under tremendous pressure from their fans who will want them to win.
“I agree with those tipping Egypt to likely win the tournament as hosts but football is not mathematics. Other factors play roles in final outcome of matches. Egyptian players are going to be under pressure to win and of course, this has its side effect on the psychology of the players,” the former Liverpool forward noted.
He however did not rule out his country, Senegal, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire from also making impact at the 32nd edition of the African football showpiece.
“Senegal, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire are other countries with likely chances of also winning AFCON 2019 because of the quality players in their ranks. We are having good time now in Senegal with big players in the current (Teranga) Lions,” he stressed.
Speaking on the all English Premier League teams finals in both the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League, Diouf insisted that it was a testimony that the league in England remains the best in the world.
“You don’t need further proof that the English league is the best in the world. I have played there and other leagues in Europe and know the difference. The English league has just reconfirm its status as the best having its four teams in the finals of both the Champions League and the Europa League.”
He praised Nigerian football fans for trooping out en-mass to fill Agege Stadium during the African All Stars versus Nigerian Legend game at the weekend.
“This is amazing. It is only in Nigeria you can find this type of crowd, I mean fans trooping out in their thousands to fill a stadium in a novelty match. You guys here love football with passion. I can see it reflected here this afternoon. I love your country so much and will always come back here if invited,” Diouf concluded.
Though retired from football since 2015, El Hadji Diouf still have his eyes on the game, working as a Government Goodwill Ambassador and Adviser on Sport to President Macky Sall.
He is also running his own sports newspaper business in Dakar and operating his own gymnasium.
Diouf was signed on in 2002 for £10m by Gérard Houllier before the 2002 World Cup. His impressive performances in the tournament for Senegal, led to much excitement for his arrival at Anfield.
He was a hit at Liverpool before taking his trade elsewhere in the English league.