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Egypt, South Africa in bid for 2019 African Cup

Egypt and South Africa have submitted bids to replace Cameroon as host of next year’s African Cup of Nations, pitting north versus south in the rush to find a new venue for the continent’s top soccer tournament. Egypt’s bid, announced by its soccer association on Thursday to meet Friday’s deadline, was a surprise move by a country which wasn’t considered a contender.

South Africa’s bid, confirmed on Friday by South African Football Association spokesman Dominic Chimhavi, puts Africa’s only World Cup host in line to help tournament organizer the Confederation of African Football out again.

South Africa hosted the Cup of Nations five years ago, standing in when Libya couldn’t hold that tournament. Egypt has hosted four times, its last in 2006.

The Confederation of African Football has given countries until the end of Friday to submit bids for the 2019 African Cup, which was taken away from Cameroon last month because of poor preparations and a violent insurgency in parts of that country.

CAF wants a new host in place by Dec. 31, with the tournament in June and July looming. Next year’s African championship is the first to be increased from 16 to 24 teams, a factor that placed additional strain on Cameroon. The moves by Egypt and South Africa came after Morocco, once considered the front-runner to replace Cameroon, said this week it wouldn’t put itself forward as a candidate. Morocco had been widely touted as a replacement after it was a candidate to host the 2026 World Cup. It lost out for the World Cup to a joint United States-Mexico-Canada bid.

CAF hasn’t confirmed if any other countries have submitted bids for next year’s African Cup.

Egypt said as recently as last month that it would not enter the race and compete with the expected bid from fellow North African nation Morocco. But Morocco’s decision not to bid appears to have led to Egypt’s change of heart.

Egypt is a powerhouse of African soccer, with its national team a record seven-time Cup of Nations winner. An African Cup in Egypt would also provide an intriguing storyline for Egypt striker Mohamed Salah, currently the continent’s best player.

But Egypt’s recent political turmoil might work against the country’s bid. Egypt has seen violence and upheaval ever since the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak. The political crisis spilled over onto the soccer field, too, with more than 70 people killed in a riot at a game in the northern city of Port Said in 2012. It was one of world soccer’s worst stadium riots.

Egypt’s bid does have logistical advantages for CAF, though, with the African soccer body based in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

South Africa is considered the country with the best infrastructure in Africa and hosted the continent’s first World Cup in 2010. The South African Football Association said it had been approached by CAF to bid for 2019, suggesting Africa’s most developed economy is the preferred choice for organizers with its world-class stadiums built for 2010.

African Cup hosting has been a major headache for CAF, with the last four tournaments not played in the country they were initially awarded to. It’s held every two years, not every four like other major soccer tournaments.

South Africa stepped in for war-torn Libya as host in 2013, Equatorial Guinea replaced Morocco in 2015 and Gabon stood in for Libya, which again couldn’t host last year.