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Poor facilities cost African teams home advantage in World Cup qualifiers

NEARLY half of the African countries hosting World Cup qualifiers over the next week are being forced to host their matches in neutral venues as the Confederation of African Football continues to clamp down on poor facilities.

Some 17 of the 43 countries who have a home game scheduled in qualification for the 2026 World Cup between Wednesday and next Tuesday are barred from using their own stadia because they are not up to standard.

The list includes Kenya, which is one of the three countries designated to co-host the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2027, and Benin, whose stadium in Cotonou is in disrepair less than two years after a major renovation.

CAF has taken a firm line on tardy facilities over the last two years in an effort to force countries to improve pitch conditions and other facilities like changing rooms and stadium lights.

While it spurred some into action and led to stadium renovations, other countries have moved slowly, or not at all, and with it lost home advantage for competitive qualifiers.

“We have to get all stakeholders within the government, the private sector, everybody involved, everybody that says they’ve got soccer in their heart because there is no way you’re going to qualify for the World Cup playing 10 matches away. It’s not possible until we fix the stadiums,” said Namibia coach Collin Benjamin.

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Namibia are being forced to play home games against Liberia on Wednesday and Tunisia on Sunday in neighbouring South Africa.

They last played a match in the capital Windhoek in March 2021.

Morocco offers help for many of the ‘homeless’ countries, as part of a charm offensive across the continent using football co-operation agreements. On top of their own World Cup qualifier against Zambia in Agadir on Friday, a further eight will be hosted over the next week in the north African kingdom.

South Africa is also a preferred destination for countries needing a venue but stadium operators charge a fee to the football associations, cutting into already tight budgets.

Benin, Congo and Madagascar are the latest countries to be banned from using home venues but South Sudan will end a lengthy exile as they play at home at a newly built stadium in Juba in their Group B derby with neighbours Sudan next week.

By MARK GLEESON

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