November 14, 2014

Equatorial Guinea was chosen Friday to host the 2015 African Cup of Nations in place of Morocco, taking the continent's top soccer tournament back to the oil-rich country that has been criticized for having an oppressive regime.

The decision by the Confederation of African Football also immediately stirred sporting controversy because Equatorial Guinea's national team was invited to participate as host despite being previously disqualified from the competition for cheating.

Equatorial Guinea is the late replacement for Morocco, which was stripped of hosting rights this week after asking for the tournament to be delayed over Ebola fears.

The Equatorial Guinea team, which was sanctioned in July for fielding an ineligible player in qualifying and has previously forfeited World Cup qualifying games for the same offense, was reinstated as an automatic qualifier, CAF said.

Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the tournament with neighbor Gabon in 2012.

It has agreed to step in at short notice early next year and will hold the tournament on the planned dates of Jan. 17-Feb. 8 - part of CAF's requirements as the soccer body scrambled to find a replacement.

''Following fraternal and fruitful discussions, the Head of State of Equatorial Guinea has agreed to host the tournament,'' CAF said in a statement. ''Therefore, the Executive Committee of CAF confirms that the ... Africa Cup of Nations 2015 will be held in Equatorial Guinea on the dates agreed.''

The agreement was struck Friday after a meeting between African football leader Issa Hayatou and Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, CAF said.

Obiang came to power through a military coup in 1979. During his leadership, U.S. authorities say top officials have amassed vast wealth through extortion, embezzlement and other corruption, while most of the country's 750,000 people live in poverty.

Last year, Spain's national team was widely criticized for playing a friendly in Equatorial Guinea and apparently giving recognition to Obiang's regime.

For the 2015 African Cup, Equatorial Guinea will use four cities: Malabo, Bata, Mongomo and Ebebiyin, CAF said.

Malabo, the capital, and Bata hosted games in 2012 in newly-built stadiums. It was unclear what stadiums would be used in the other two cities as CAF didn't announce any other details on the venues.

CAF also announced the final draw for the tournament will take place in Malabo on Dec. 3.

CAF did not say how many candidates it was considering as replacements, but had said ''a few'' African countries had shown interest in stepping in for Morocco. The soccer body had refused to delay the tournament amid Morocco's Ebola fears because of possible revenue loss from existing commercial agreements. The 16-team competition is CAF's main source of revenue.

Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, also said in a statement through its football federation that it was willing to help out if asked by CAF.

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