Today we will witness the start of the third edition of the African Nations Championships (Chan), and our sports desk takes a look at the history of this unique competition
The tournament is reserved for the best national teams of Africa, exclusively featuring players who are active in their respective national leagues and qualified to play in the ongoing season.
Expatriate players, regardless of where they play, even in Africa, may not qualify to take part in the African Championship of Nations.
The Chan event was first announced on 11 September 2007, in a response to the desire to strengthen national competitions, which over time had been weakened by a mass exodus of top players who leave their home countries to play for foreign teams.
The first tournament was held in 2009 and was hosted by Côte d’Ivoire and won by The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The tournament was then expanded to 16 teams for the second tournament, held in Sudan in 2011. The competition was won by Tunisia, against the backdrop of the Tunisian Revolution.
The tournament is held every two years, alternating with the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament.
The qualifying phase has taken place every even year and the final every odd year. From now on it has swapped years with the Africa Cup of Nations, meaning the next Chan tournament will be held in 2016, with Rwanda named as hosts for the event.
The 2014 tournament ends on February 1, with Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Polokwane as hosts cities.
FIFA on Thursday confirmed that matches at the 2014 CHAN will be given full “A” status in a contradiction of past precedent.
There has been a debate over whether matches that have a restriction on team selection such as Chan, which allows only home-based players, should be considered full international games.
The first two instalments of the Chan finals, in Ivory Coast in 2009 and Sudan in 2011, were not given full international status and were rendered effectively exhibition matches.
And in the qualifiers for the 2014 finals only some of the games were considered “A” games.
It is muddled thinking by the governing body, who confirmed to RedPepper Online edition via e-mail that they had granted full Fifa “A” status to the tournament.
Group A: South Africa, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria
Home base: Cape Town
Match dates: Jan 11, 15, 19
South Africa: The host nation will be full of confidence heading into the tournament after some impressive results in recent months – most notably the 1-0 win over World and European champions Spain – and will certainly be eyeing an improvement on their quarter-final finish in the last edition in Sudan in 2011.
Gordon Igesund has an almost full strength squad to choose from with the exception of those from Orlando Pirates, and the mix of experienced stars and young talent bodes well for their chances.
Mali: The Eagles survived a difficult trip to Conakry that saw them lose 1-0 to Guinea as they secured their place in the tournament thanks to a 3-1 first-leg win.
Coach Djibril Drame will be relying on the nine players in the squad that ply their trade for domestic champions Le Stade Malien as they look to improve on the one point, one goal showing from the previous edition.
Mozambique: The Southeast African nation booked their ticket to the tournament by beating Angola on away goals, and coach Joao Chissano is hoping to mastermind progression from the group stage in the country’s maiden involvement in the competition.
Liga Muculmana striker Sonito will likely be the focal point of the team, with the 28-year-old having gone on an ultimately unsuccessful trial with PSL outfit Kaizer Chiefs towards the end of 2013.
Nigeria: The reigning African Cup of Nations champions are rightly considered among the favourites to lift the trophy at the Cape Town Stadium on February 11, with a number of players in their squad already established as full internationals.
Victory for the Super Eagles would cap off a remarkable 12 months for Stephen Keshi’s side, with their AFCON success and World Cup qualification having already been achieved.
Group B: Burkina Faso, Morocco, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Home base: Cape Town
Match dates: January 12, 16, 20
Burkina Faso: The Burkinabes will enter the tournament feeling confident of a place in the first knock-out round, having underlined their prowess on the continent by making it to the final of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
However, the side are thought to be over-reliant on their overseas stars, and with the CHAN finals reserved solely for home-grown talent, a big test awaits coach Paul Put and his young charges.
Morocco: The Lions of the Atlas make the long voyage from the top of Africa down to the tip for their inaugural adventure at a CHAN finals. They also enter the tournament as the side that dispatched holders Tunisia in the final qualifying round, squeaking a 1-0 aggregate win away from home in the second leg.
Hassan Benabicha will be the man to lead the Lions to South Africa, having taken over from Rachid Taoussi on Christmas Eve, and the new coach has arguably one of the strongest squads in the tournament at his disposal, with seven Raja Casablanca representatives on call, all of whom helped the side to the recent Club World Cup final.
Uganda: The Uganda Cranes’ inclusion in Group B makes it one of the toughest at the tournament, although Milutin Sredojevic’s men will need a quick improvement against their upcoming opponents, having lost twice against Zimbabwe in two friendlies leading up to the finals.
The team did, however, look impressive at the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in Kenya last month where they made it to the quarter-finals, eventually losing to Tanzania.
Zimbabwe: The Warriors make their third successive appearance at the CHAN finals, although on both previous occasions, in 2009 and 2011, they failed to make it past the group stages after finishing third in both editions.
However, Ian Gorowa’s men showed they have what it takes to tussle with the big boys, having seen off 2012 AFCON champions Zambia to book their place in this year’s South African showpiece.
Group C: Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Libya.
Home base: Mangaung
Match dates: January 13, 17, 21
Ghana: With this tournament’s focus being to expose locally-based talent; all eyes will be on group favourites Ghana to unleash the next African star to follow in the foot-steps of Michael Essien, Andre Ayew and the like. The Black Stars are the outright favourites to progress to the next stage, as they have one of the most reputable domestic competitions on the continent.
Libya: The Lybia’s main squad is largely made up of local-based players, so they are expected to have no selection headaches unlike the bigger African powerhouses who have a large overseas-based contingent.
The side fondly referred to as the Mediterranean Knights are steadily improving their reputation under current coach Javier Clemente. They are currently ranked 59th in the world and 11th in Africa. They should also progress.
Congo: The Red Devils have struggled to build on their 2000 African Cup of Nations qualification, as they have fallen short ever since. CHAN offers the Central Africans an opportunity to test themselves on a continental stage, which could result in helping them towards a solution for the re-building process.
They beat the Central African Republic for their place at CHAN 2014.
Ethiopia: Ethiopia is flourishing under head coach Sewnet Bishaw. When at full strength; the Walias are an organanised unit that knows how to cover for one another’s weaknesses. They were stopped by African champions Nigeria in the 2014 FIFA World Cup playoffs. It will be interesting to see what the Ethiopian mastermind does with his local-based group.
Group D: DR Congo, Gabon, Burundi, Mauritania
Home base: Polokwane
Match dates: January 14, 18, 22
DR Congo: The winners of the inaugural African Nations Championship will be taking part in their third successive tournament in the 2014 edition.
Leopards goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba could set a record for most tournament appearances in this year’s competition, while head coach Santos Mutubile will be in charge for his third CHAN.
A notable absentee from DR Congo’s squad list is forward Tresor Mputu, who lead the team to their maiden tournament triumph, after signing for Angolan outfit Kabuscorp in December.
Gabon: Azingo Nationale (Black Panthers) will be making their second CHAN appearance in South Africa after their failed campaign in 2011, where they were knocked out of the group stages by Sudan.
Gabon secured their place in this year’s competition with an impressive 7-6 win in a penalty shoot-out with the mighty Cameroon following a 1-1 aggregate draw.
Mangasport’s Samson Mbingui will be hoping to add to his one goal in five appearances for his country, while several top stars from Cotonsport, who were engaged in a CAF Champions League clash during the qualifiers, will also be added to the squad.
Burundi: This will be the first time Burundi are represented at the African Nations Championship following a 1-0 win over Kenya and a 4-3 penalty shoot-out triumph over Sudan in qualifying.
They will also be buoyed by their domestic champions Vital’O’s 2013 regional CECAFA Kagame Club Championship win in Darfur, Sudan.
Head coach Lofty Naseem will be reliant on star defender Gilbert Kaze and midfielders Masudi Abdallah and Gael Duhayindavyi to inspire Les Hirondelles (The Swallows) into the knockout rounds.
Mauritania: Nicknamed the Mourabitounes, Mauritania will be taking part in its first international football competition after 53 years of independence after beating the likes of Liberia and neighbours Senegal to qualify.
The Saharan nation, though, have largely struggled on the international stage, failing to qualify for any of the five World Cups they entered or any of the Africa Cup of Nations since gaining independence from France in 1960.
Much of their recent success has been attributed to head coach Patrice Neveu, who took over the job in 2012, and the Frenchman will be heavily reliant on veteran squad members such as Cheikh El Khalil Moulaye Ahmed, goalkeeper Souleymane Diallo and defenders Mamadou Idrissa Wade and Bocar Ngolo Coulibaly.
One talent who will not be available is influential attacking midfielder Ismael Diakite, who signed with Tunisian club Club Sportif de Hammam Lif after the qualifying campaign.