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South Africa are big winners in CAF reshuffle

The recent changes to their calendar and tournament expansion announced by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on Thursday have been met with delight and scorn in equal measure.

It is hard to please everybody at the best of times, and so the changes to both the format and the timing of competitions were always going to bring reactions on different ends of the spectrum.

But one organisation that will be delighted with the changes is South Africa's Premier Soccer League (PSL), which has long battled with the CAF calendar down the years, leading to what was close to a farcical end to the 2016/17 season.

African champions Mamelodi Sundowns had to play an astonishing 30 games in four months across all competitions, and there is no doubt that their horror run of fixtures contributed to them handing their domestic league title over to Bidvest Wits.

The issue for Sundowns was that the South African season and the CAF Calendar were not aligned, leading to many postponements of league fixtures and a bottle-neck that they had to clear at the end of the campaign.

However, the decisions of the CAF Executive Committee this week will go a long way to alleviating that, and rids the PSL of the need, at some considerable cost, to revert to the February-to-November CAF calendar as had been discussed at board level within the organisation.

The first piece of good news for the PSL was the decision of CAF to move the African Nations Cup finals from January/February to June/July from 2019 onwards.

This will negate the need to have a lengthy mid-season break in the PSL, which this past season stretched from December 22 to February 7.

The league can now re-start early in the New Year, adding a potential four more weekends to the calendar. It will also be welcomed by fans, players and sponsors, who have often bemoaned the stop-start nature of the season every two years.

The second, and perhaps even better news for the PSL, is that African club competitions will now be aligned with the European August-May calendar.

Now, you can debate the merits of this at length, but to the PSL and their clubs, it is a massive win. It means they can adequately plan the campaign, and there should be no more instances of little or no pre-season planning.

Sundowns, for example, have had no proper pre-season since 2015, having played through that period last year on their way to lifting the trophy, and again in this campaign as they reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League again.

Those problems should now be a thing of the past, as should the issues around player registration which have frustrated South African clubs so much in the past.

As the CAF club competitions were not aligned with the transfer windows (for example teams had to register players in December the year before and could not include players purchased in January), this will no longer be an issue.

The PSL has come under heavy criticism in recent years for its scheduling, especially given the recent success of Sundowns and Orlando Pirates in CAF club competitions, but they have now had their problems solved for them to a large degree.

While other leagues across the continent will be trying to work out how to deal with their new issues, South Africa can look forward to more success having finally got the wish of many - to have their domestic calendar aligned with CAF.

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