Five big wishes for African men's football in 2022

Klopp admits he is unsure when Liverpool's AFCON stars will depart (1:19)

Jurgen Klopp says he is unsure when Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita will leave for the Africa Cup of Nations. (1:19)

This year is set to be a major one for African football, with an Africa Cup of Nations and a World Cup giving the continent's teams, players, and officials ample opportunity to impress.

As we step into the New Year, ESPN's Ed Dove reveals his five big 2022 wishes for the African game over the coming 12 months.

A controversy-free AFCON

The year will only be nine days old by the time the Africa Cup of Nations gets underway in Yaounde, Cameroon.

However, even though the tournament will be done and dusted by mid-February, it's imperative that the competition is a success for African football and sets the tone for the year.

The Cameroon AFCON -- originally scheduled for 2019 before Egypt took over hosting duties -- has encountered more obstacles than most, with the tournament expansion to 24 teams and the calendar shift during the reign of Ahmad Ahmad in 2017 prompting a late change of venue.

Now, Cameroon finally gets her chance, and even though Ahmad has departed, it's a vital opportunity for new CAF president Dr Patrice Motsepe to demonstrate that things will be a little different (for the better) under new management.

The tournament still takes place amidst a backdrop of concerns about the readiness of facilities, domestic strife and secessionist violence, and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. But having pushed through in their determination that the 'show must go on' CAF and Cameroon must now deliver.

Any Covid crises or security issues will doubtless be jumped upon by influences from Europe -- notably the European Clubs Association who opposed the tournament taking place -- and beyond, while Motsepe will be desperate for the football to do the talking.

If the sport itself can truly take centre stage, then a collection of the finest African talents can serve up a spectacle worth the stress.

Eto'o to solve the ills of Cameroonian football

Samuel Eto'o made his long-awaited step into African football administration at the tail end of 2021 when he was elected Cameroon FA President at the FECAFOOT elections in December.

Eto'o's first challenge will be to oversee a successful AFCON, while he will also be expected, over the coming months, to win over the 42 percent of the electorate who didn't put their vote behind the former Barcelona striker.

When the dust settles on AFCON, Eto'o must tackle his key election pledges -- eradicating corruption within Cameroonian football and promoting the women's game -- while simultaneously contending with the infighting and chronic mismanagement that have infected one of the continent's most troubled FAs in recent times.

As recently as 2017, Cameroonian football was run by a 'normalisation committee' prescribed by FIFA, while the federation were 'held up' by a player strike on the eve of the 2019 Nations Cup in Egypt, as the squad refused to board their flight bound for the tournament without assurances being made about their bonuses.

Cameroon have fallen a great distance from their role as African football's pioneers of the 1980s, and key players in recent years -- Joel Matip, Alex Song, Nicolas Nkoulou -- opting out of representing their country is another symptom of a deep-rooted malaise that must be addressed.

It's too ambitious to hope for Eto'o to solve all of these problems - and others - before the end of 2022, but fans of the African game will be hoping to see some fruits of the striker's influence, experience, and connections as one of the continent's true giants aims to get back on its feet.

Another African Ballon d'Or winner

Messi reacts to winning his 'special' seventh Ballon D'Or

Lionel Messi speaks after winning the men's Ballon D'Or for a record-extending seventh time.

The wait for a second African Ballon d'Or continues, even though the continent's stars came close -- and should arguably have gone closer -- this year, with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah coming seventh.

Not since George Weah's triumph in 1995 has an African player clinched the biggest individual prize in the world game, despite the prominence of some of the continent's top names in the upper echelons of European football.

Didier Drogba finished fourth in the rankings in 2007, the same placement as Sadio Mane in 2019, while Salah also made the top five in that same year.

In 2021, Champions League winner Edouard Mendy, Premier League winner Riyad Mahrez and the continent's outstanding talent today in Salah might all have harboured hopes of making an impression in the voting, although ultimately, the Egyptian's ranking was the best Africa could muster.

This year, there's hope that things could change.

With an AFCON to come -- and no European Championships or Copa America -- African players have the opportunity for glory in a continental tournament, while the World Cup in Qatar represents another avenue to make an impression on voters.

Salah, Mahrez and Sadio Mane are featuring at European super clubs, working with world-class managers, and each have a shot at winning the Nations Cup.

The Egypt superstar, in particular, has demonstrated a remarkable level of consistency since the start of the season -- he's had a hand in 24 goals in 19 Premier League outings so far -- and will surely be in contention if he maintains this form.

The Super Eagles to soar

Since taking over as Nigeria head coach in August 2016, Gernot Rohr largely met requirements as Nigeria manager -- qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, two Nations Cups, and remaining in the hunt for a place in Qatar.

At the AFCON in 2019, they reached the final four, but there was a persistent lingering sense that he failed to get the best out of a talented squad. Results were uninspiring, performances even less convincing, and Rohr struggled to establish a playing identity for a crop of players brimming with quality.

The NFF took the bold decision to part ways with the head coach in December, and while there are reasonable grounds to question why the decision was taken on the eve of the Nations Cup, few fans mourned the German's exit.

While the appointment of Jose Peseiro has been met with muted response -- "He might not have won anything, but we believe he will bring value to our team," NFF Vice President Shehu Dikko told ESPN - but there's no denying he has immense talent to work with.

Over the Portuguese coach's tenure, he should see the likes of Samuel Chukwueze, Samuel Kalu, Joe Aribo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Victor Osimhen and Wilfred Ndidi approach or reach their peak years, and rarely has an incoming Super Eagles coach been able to enjoy the services of such a vast array of attacking talents.

Perhaps, with a strong AFCON under the tutelage of interim head coach Augustine Eguavoen under their belts, this Super Eagles side can head into the rest of 2022 -- the World Cup qualifiers and hopefully the tournament itself -- with their wings unclipped and ready to realise their immense potential.

If they don't, then the NFF, yet again, will have questions to answer.

An African nation in the World Cup semifinals

The World Cup quarterfinal has remained the glass ceiling for the continent's teams on the grandest stage of all, with African sides reaching the final eight of the tournament on three occasions.

However, while Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002, and Ghana in 2010 each enjoyed unforgettable runs to the business end of the tournament, each came unstuck with the semifinals in view.

Could 2022 be the year when an African nation breaks new ground at the tournament?

FIFA's decision to take the tournament to a new heartland in Qatar has echoes of the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea, when unfamiliar playing conditions and climate led to an unpredictable tournament in which big names tumbled early and unfamiliar faces reached the latter stages.

While global football is increasingly homogenous, the winter tournament in Qatar might have an unpredictability factor that serves African sides well.

Similarly, the fact the tournament comes less than a year after the Africa Cup of Nations -- a hark back to the pre-2013 calendar -- could also be to the advantage of African nations, with teams able to refine their approach and rhythm in the first part of the year with an eye on the challenges ahead.

Algeria, unbeaten in 39 matches, will certainly take some beating if they reach Qatar, with this squad currently the reigning African and Arab champions.

Senegal could also be a strong bet following their experiences at the 2018 tournament and the 2019 AFCON, while Salah has the quality to help Egypt trouble some of the world's finest national sides.

Nigeria, too, may have been in danger of losing their way under Rohr, but their squad boasts players who would be the envy of most European and South American nations, and can harbour realistic hopes of making their mark in Qatar.