The top clubs in England watched the qualifying games for the African Nations Cup with mixed emotions over the weekend.
A Premier eye is kept on Africa
Saturday afternoons, now that European international weeks mostly follow a Friday and Tuesday schedule, are supposed to be rare relaxation time for Premier League managers.
Last Saturday was not that for Alan Pardew, nor Arsene Wenger, nor Roberto Mancini. If they were not directly watching the broadcast feed of a match more than 3,000 miles away in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, they were asking for regular updates on the outcome.
Senegal did not make it an easy afternoon for Pardew, whose leading strikers, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, are Senegalese; nor did Ivory Coast, whose Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya, are with Mancini's Manchester City and whose Gervinho is at Arsenal.
These managers had concerns beyond which players might return injured or fatigued. Ivory Coast versus Senegal was one of 15 play-offs at the weekend across Africa to decide who would compete at the next African Cup of Nations finals, which start on January 19.
The awkwardness of the New Year scheduling of the tournament is nothing new, and has for a decade caused European club managers to complain about the unavailability of African players in the middle of the domestic calendar, but this qualifying process is.
Because the biennial competition is shifting from even years to odd ones, the 2013 tournament, to be staged in South Africa, follows the 2012 version by only 12 months. There has been no time for lengthy formats for qualifying. A simple set of two-legged ties settles which of the 2012 finalists go to 2013.
Hence the oddity of two heavyweights, Senegal and Ivory Coast, jousting for one place. Some joust it was, too.
Senegal took the lead twice, but Ivory Coast equalised twice and added two more goals to win 4-2. Pardew, who would rather do without his Ivorian midfielder Chiekh Tiote than miss Cisse and Ba, will hope the Ivorians can defend that advantage in Senegal in the second leg next month. Mancini and Wenger will hope the opposite.
A number of English clubs are affected by the Nations Cup: Tottenham Hotspur's management will hope their striker Emmanuel Adebayor's goal for Togo in their 1-1 draw with Gabon does not give Togo enough momentum to qualify.
And elsewhere, a few managers might wonder if it is worth starting to scour more obscure parts of Africa for talent, noting that impoverished Central African Republic, 1-0 winners against Burkina Faso, have moved closer to a rare appearance at a finals.
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