THE African Nations Championship (otherwise called the African Championship of Nations or CHAN) begins its fifth edition this weekend in Morocco. The football competition is largely seen as the second version of the Africa Cup of Nations the biggest football showpiece in Africa. It is meant only for players that ply their trade in their domestic leagues, leaving no room for foreign-based players.
The first CHAN took place in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009 following its announcement by the Confederations of African Football (CAF) in 2007. The Democratic Republic of Congo emerged Champions, beating Ghana 2-0 in the final. Tunisia overcame Angola to win the second edition in 2011, in Sudan, with CAF expanding the number of participating countries from eight to sixteen. Libya and DR Congo went on to win the 2014 and 2016 editions respectively.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria will be participating in the tournament for the third time, with the best outing so far in 2014 when they finished third. They had lost to Ghana on penalties in the semi finals.
The year 2016 turned out worse for Nigeria. Grouped alongside Tunisia, Guinea and Niger Republic, many thought with the presence of red-hot striker Chisom Chikatara, who was making the headlines for Abia Warriors in the Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL, Nigeria would make a lasting impact in the competition. In the first match against Niger Republic, the striker came in as a 58th minute substitute, and scored a hat trick, as Nigeria went on to win 4-1.
The Abia State indigene wrote his name on the score sheet once again, in the second match against Tunisia, but the match ended 1-1 after Ahmed Akaichi found the equalizer for the North Africans. Nigeria therefore, only needed a draw against Guinea to advance to the quarter-finals, but went on to lose 1-0, crashing out at the group stage.
Qualifying for 2018 CHAN did not come easy. The Eagles had to overturn a 1-0 deficit, handed them by the Squirrels of Benin Republic in the first leg, winning 2-0 in the second leg, and 2-1 on aggregate, to qualify. Nigerians have goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa to thank, for saving Mama Saibu’s penalty and ensuring Nigeria participate in the competition. Rabiu Ali and Kingsley Eduwo were on hand to provide the needed goals for Nigeria.
Coach Salisu Yusuf released his squad for the CHAN during the week, and Nigerians have hailed the inclusion of Anthony Okpotu. The Lobi Stars striker, who had 19 goals to his name to clinch the Rashidi Yekini award for the highest goal scorer of the NPFL last season, is hopeful for a good outing in Morocco, promising to “make Nigeria proud”
However, critics fault the exemption of names like Chukwuka Onuwa, Stephen Odey, and Sikiru Olatunbosun of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Football Club (MFM FC), the trio who were exceptional in the NPFL last year. Goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso of Nasarawa United, and Ojo Olorunleke of Akwa United, absent from the final 23 going to Morocco also raised questions.
The Eagles played a 0-0 with the Lions of Cameroon on Wednesday in what the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) described as a ‘very physical friendly. Yusuf told the NFF website after the match, “The progress of the players is very encouraging and I believe we are going to do well in the tournament. He promised the Eagles will ‘fight’ to make Nigeria proud as they are ‘technically, tactically, and psychologically ready for the challenge”.
The Eagles start their quest on Monday, January 15, against Rwanda; battle Libya on January 19 and play their last group match against Equatorial Guinea on January 23. The quarterfinals are scheduled for January 27 and 28, while the semifinals are slated for January 31 in Casablanca and Marrakech.
The final will take place at the Complexe Mohammed V in Casablanca on February 4, 2018.
Nigeria Team List for CHAN 2018
Goalkeepers: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba FC); Oladele Ajiboye (Plateau United); Theophilus Afelokhai (Enyimba FC)
Defenders: Osas Okoro (Rangers International); Daniel James (Plateau United); Kalu Orji Okogbue (Rangers International); Ikouwem Utin (Enyimba FC); Abdullahi Musa (Wikki Tourists); Timothy Danladi (Katsina United); Ifeanyi Nweke (Kano Pillars); Stephen Eze (Kano Pillars)
Midfielders: Ifeanyi Ifeanyi (Akwa United); Rabiu Ali (Kano Pillars); Augustine Oladapo (Enyimba FC); Ekundayo Ojo (Sunshine Stars)
Forwards: Emeka Atuloma (Rivers United); Anthony Okpotu (Lobi Stars); Eneji Moses (Plateau United); Ibrahim Mustapha (Enyimba FC); Emeka Ogbuh (Rivers United); SundayFaleye (Akwa United); Nura Muhammed (El-Kanemi Warriors); Okechukwu Gabriel (Akwa United)
– Jan. 12, 2018 @ 19:16 GMT |