The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (also referred to as AFCON 2021 or CAN 2021), known as the TotalEnergies2021 Africa Cup of Nations for sponsorship reasons, is the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, the biennial international men's football championship of Africa organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The tournament is being hosted by Cameroon, and taking place from 9 January to 6 February 2022.
The tournament was originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021. However, on 15 January 2020, the CAF announced that due to unfavourable climatic conditions during that period, the tournament had been rescheduled to be played between 9 January and 6 February 2021. On 30 June 2020, the CAF moved the tournament's dates for the second time to January 2022 following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the continent, whilst retaining the name 2021 Africa Cup of Nations for sponsorship purposes.
Algeria were the defending champions, but were eliminated in the group stage.
After the CAF Executive Committee meeting on 24 January 2014, it was announced that there were three official candidates for the 2021 edition:
This list was different from the list of the host nation bids for both the 2019 and 2021 edition of the Cup of Nations as announced by CAF in November 2013, with Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Zambia also on the original list. All three official candidates also bid for hosting the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
The decision of the host country was postponed from early 2014 to grant each bidding country adequate time to receive the inspection delegation. After the final vote at the CAF Executive Committee meeting, on 20 September 2014, the CAF announced the hosts for the 2019, 2021 and 2023 AFCON tournaments: 2019 to Cameroon, 2021 to Ivory Coast, and 2023 to Guinea.
The tournament was originally scheduled to take place between 9 January and 6 February 2021. The preliminary round and two matchdays of the qualifying group stage had already been played between 9 October and 19 November 2019. The third and fourth matchdays of the qualifying group stage, which were initially scheduled to take place from 23 to 31 March and 1 to 9 June 2020 respectively, were postponed and all remaining qualifying matches rescheduled due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa.
On 30 June 2020, however, the CAF announced the rescheduling of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations to January 2022 "after consultation with stakeholders and taking into consideration the current global situation" according to a published statement, with new dates to be announced at a later date. Subsequently, other continental competitions and events to be held were rescheduled or cancelled, including new dates for the remaining AFCON qualifiers, which were now to be completed by March 2021. On 31 March 2021, it was confirmed that the final tournament would take place from 9 January to 6 February 2022, exactly one year after its originally scheduled start date.
A total of 24 teams are competing in the final tournament. Only the hosts received an automatic qualification spot, with the other 23 teams qualified through a qualification tournament. At the finals, the 24 teams were drawn into six groups of four teams. The teams in each group played a single round robin. After the group stage, the top two teams from each group and the four highest ranked third-placed teams advanced to the round of 16. The round of 16 winners will advance to the quarter-finals and the quarter-final winners will advance to the semi-finals. The semi-final losers will play in a third place match, while the semi-final winners will contest the final.
CAF announced the official match ball named Toghu on 23 November 2021. It is made by English manufacturer Umbro.
The mascot, "Mola", was unveiled on May 17, 2021, during a ceremony in Yaoundé. He is a lion and his kit bears resemblance to Cameroon's home colors, with words saying "Cameroon" with "2021" on the top and bottom of the kit.
The following referees were chosen for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, with two referees from CONCACAF assigned. The list consists of 24 referees, 31 assistant referees and eight video assistant referees from 36 countries.
Atmosphere before the start of the AFCON launch ceremonies.
The opening ceremony of the stadium began at 10 a.m. with the setting up of the animation groups and the cultural activities which lasted till 2 p.m. Guests and officials were set up until the start of the opening match at 5 p.m. Among the guests were members of Confederation of African Football (CAF), members of the diplomatic corps, presidents of legislative and judicial institutions, members of government including the president of COCAN 2021 and the presidents of CAF and FIFA.
The set-up of officials ended by 4 p.m. with the arrival of the presidents of Comoros and Cameroon. After the performance of the hymns, the opening speech was made by Patrice Motsepe, CAF's president followed by the solemn opening of the competition by the President of the Republic of Cameroon, Paul Biya, after which a cultural parade of about an hour took place.
A cultural interlude representing the 4 cultural areas of Cameroon was presented with 500 young ambassadors and the mascot Mola who participated in the dance, the host artist, Fally Ipupa offered a performance. During this parade, a virtual lion appeared to viewers, this was set up by Belgian graphic designer Thibault Baras on an idea of the creative company lib. Made in augmented reality and turned on a game engine, this lion is 16 meters long, 8 meters high and weighs a ton.
After the match, which took place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. there was a fireworks display.
The top two teams of each group, along with the best four third-placed teams, advanced to the round of 16.
All times are local, WAT (UTC+1).
Teams were ranked according to points (3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, 0 points for a loss), and if tied on points, the following tiebreaking criteria were applied, in the order given, to determine the rankings (Regulations Article 74):
In the knockout stage, extra time and a penalty shoot-out will be used to decide the winner if necessary, except for the third place match, where a direct penalty shoot-out, without any extra time, is used to decide the winner if necessary (Regulations Article 75).
In the first match of Group F between Tunisia and Mali, Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe ended the match in the 85th minute before changing his mind. He then signalled the end of the match in the 89th minute without calculating overtime, which would have been significant due to the large number of changes (9 changes between the two teams) and double verification of the video assistant referee.
However, the referee announced the return of the match after 25 minutes of stopping to complete 3 minutes, with the Tunisian team refusing to complete it. A forensic report stated that Sikazwe suffered heat stroke, which contributed to his mishandling of the match.
Mauritanian national anthem
Before the second match of Group F between Mauritania and Gambia, the old Mauritanian national anthem was played three times, the stadium announcer said that the Mauritanian players would sing the anthem themselves, but a third failed attempt was soon cut off after the old anthem of the country was played again.
Before the fourth match in the knockout stage between hosts Cameroon and Comoros, which took place on 24 January 2022 at the Olembe Stadium, there was a violent stampede by the Cameroonian fans. The health card to enter the stadium from the south gate to watch the match, behind the stampede, eight deaths were recorded for two women and four men, all in their thirties, in addition to two children.
The ministry indicated that about 50 people were injured in the stampede, including two people with multiple injuries and two others with serious head injuries, and a baby was immediately transferred to the General Hospital in Yaounde in a medically stable condition.
^The Mauritania v Gambia match was originally scheduled to kick-off at 17:00, but was delayed to 17:45 due to timing issues in the Tunisia v Mali match.