The director of FIFA for African federations, Gelson Fernandes, believes in the “enormous potential” of football on the continent due to the increasing organization of institutions and the attention generated by the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON), which attracted nearly two billion viewers.

Convinced that the recent AFCON 2023 held in Ivory Coast from January 13th to February 11th was a success, with “very secure stadiums” and over 1.1 million spectators attending the 52 matches, as well as “many viewers on television” – almost two billion – the official praised the “good organization” of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

“When federations reach the level of organization they have now, the potential is enormous. African football does not lag behind South American or Asian football. For the first time, we will have 9.5 teams (nine or ten) in the final phase of the World Cup, with twice the chance of surprising,” he told Lusa, envisioning the expansion from 32 to 48 teams for the 2026 World Cup.

Gelson Fernandes, a 37-year-old former Swiss international player, is also attentive to the “technical and tactical potential” of African players. He emphasized that teams were “very close to each other” in the recent AFCON, with “many surprises,” such as the unprecedented qualifications for the round of 16 by Namibia, eliminated by Angola, and Mauritania, defeated at that stage by Cape Verde, the country where Gelson Fernandes was born.

The FIFA official praised the performance of these teams, as well as Mozambique, which finished fourth in Group B, a “very difficult group” won by Cape Verde. Another Portuguese-speaking country, Guinea-Bissau, finished fourth in Group A, without any points.

Gelson Fernandes, who played for Sporting in the 2012/13 season, as well as for clubs like Manchester City, Leicester, Saint-Étienne, Rennes, and Eintracht Frankfurt, also believes that the Forward program, developed by FIFA globally since 2016, is helping football in African countries to evolve.

Between 2016 and 2022, the initiative raised $2.4 billion in funding worldwide, with CAF receiving nearly $718 million, the highest amount among the six continental confederations. From this available funding, CAF had $604 million approved and 385 projects implemented, with the majority of funds going towards infrastructure ($119.3 million), administrative matters ($118.4 million), and organizing national teams ($106.9 million), according to the FIFA report.

“Forward is excellent work, with this development program now paying off, as each federation is more professional in preparing for matches (…). Our work always involves planning, organization, and investment in infrastructure and competitions. That’s the right path,” emphasized the official.

Accustomed to traveling the continent to check on infrastructure or player development projects, Gelson Fernandes wants to see “strong federations, with many goals and well-defined programs” and believes that the pilot phase of the FIFA Series, which will bring together teams less accustomed to playing each other, from March 18th to 26th, will enrich the federations’ curriculum.

“It is important to provide different experiences to our federations, so they become more complete,” he said, regarding an initiative with friendly matches distributed among five groups of four teams each, including Cape Verde.

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