Tom Saintfiet, coach of Africa Cup of Nations debutants The Gambia, says it will be “tough to find good opponents” as they prepare for the finals in January in Cameroon.
The Gambia, along with Comoros and Sierra Leone, are the only teams from the 24 at the Nations Cup who will not be involved in World Cup qualifiers in the run-up to Africa’s showpiece event.
Saintfiet says the lack of competitive football in the three international windows prior to the Cup of Nations is not ideal.
“Sadly enough, we won’t play World Cup qualifiers. We were kicked out in 2019 against Angola, so we’re playing friendlies,” Saintfiet told BBC Sport Africa.
“It’s a little bit tough to find good opponents because most of the teams are playing World Cup qualifiers. But in December we will have the opponents who will be at Afcon.”
The Gambia has been drawn in Group F for their first Nations Cup alongside Tunisia, Mali, and Mauritania – three teams who will all be involved in 2022 World Cup qualifying before they head to Cameroon for the delayed tournament which runs from 9 January to 6 February 2022.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr, who will face Cape Verde, Central African Republic, and Liberia in World Cup qualifying appreciates the benefits of competitive football ahead of the Cup of Nations.
“I think it can help if it’s going well,” Rohr told BBC Sport Africa.
“If it’s going well, there will be confidence and the team will grow together. And we will be ready because we have the six games in only three months.“
But Rohr is also aware of player fatigue and the demands his squad members will face from club football.
“It’s not easy to be fresh for the Afcon because a lot of players are playing in England and they will come in at the last moment only. And they will play at Christmas – you know how it is there.
“So there will be no time for camping with them. But we have to adapt and there will not be any excuse. I think we will be ready for this big match – this first match – against Egypt on the 11th of January.“
As well as the Pharaohs, Nigeria will also face Sudan and Guinea-Bissau in Group D at the Cup of Nations.
Another of the fancied teams, Ivory Coast, has a tough task having been drawn against the holders Algeria as well as Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea in Group E.
Patrice Beaumelle, the Elephants’ coach, says the period leading up to the Nations Cup will be frenetic for his players.
“I think the boys, they have to concentrate too much. September, October, November – it’s six games. Then it’s the Africa Cup of Nations,” Beaumelle told BBC Sport Africa.
“It’s a lot of dates, it’s a lot of meetings. It’s a very important time for Ivory Coast.”