Lagos – The fifth edition of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) kicked off this weekend in Morocco.
The biennial football tournament, organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) exclusively for players featuring in their respective national leagues, has remained elusive for Nigeria.
This year’s edition is taking place in Morocco from January 13 to February 4. In February 2016, Kenya was announced as the host nation but in September 2017, CAF changed the host nation to Morocco due to a lack of progress with preparations.
Unlike the African Cup of Nations, the competing national teams must be composed of players playing in their domestic league. For example, a Moroccan player is only eligible to play for the Morocco national team if he is playing for a Moroccan club.
DR Congo are the defending champions but failed to qualify for the first time ever after losing to Congo on away goals rule.
The 16 teams participating in the championship were drawn into four groups of four teams.
In Group A are host Morocco, Guinea, Sudan and Mauritania, while in Group B has Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia, Uganda and Namibia. Group C has Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea. Group, D, comprises of Angola, Cameroon, Congo and Burkina Faso. The top two teams in each group will qualify for the quarterfinals.
Since its participation in the championship, Nigeria has never won the title despite being regarded as ‘Giant of Africa’.
Nigeria failed to qualify for the first two editions of the championship, losing to Ghana in 2008 (ahead of Cote d’Ivoire 2009) and beaten on aggregate by Niger Republic in 2010 (ahead of Sudan 2011).
The country’s 2014 squad led by Stephen Keshi (of blessed memory) qualified after edging Cote d’Ivoire 4-3 on aggregate, and then finished third in South Africa to win the bronze medal.
In 2015, the team coached by Sunday Oliseh also defeated Burkina Faso to qualify for the finals, but lost out at group stage in the finals in Rwanda few months later.
To reach the finals of this year’s edition, Nigeria under Coach Salisu Yusuf edged out Benin Republic 2-1 on aggregate. The country’s trophy–hunting side left for Morocco on Monday night with confidence of returning to the country with the trophy for the first time.
A few days before they traveled out, Yusuf named a 23–man team for the championship where the country will play 2014 champions, Libya, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea in the group stage.
The 23-man team includes: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba FC); Oladele Ajiboye (Plateau United); Theophilus Afelokhai (Enyimba FC) – Goalkeepers.
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) – Defenders.
Ifeanyi Ifeanyi (Akwa United); Rabiu Ali (Kano Pillars); Augustine Oladapo (Enyimba FC); Ekundayo Ojo (Sunshine Stars) – Midfielders.
Emeka Atuloma (Rivers United); Anthony Okpotu (Lobi Stars); Eneji Moses (Plateau United); Ibrahim Mustapha (Enyimba FC); Emeka Ogbuh (Rivers United); Sunday Faleye (Shooting Stars); Nur Muhammed (El-Kanemi Warriors) and Okechukwu Gabriel (Akwa United) – Forwards.
The Ikechukwu Ezenwa–captained squad will take on Rwanda (hosts of the last edition of the championship two years ago) at the Stade Ibn Batouta on Monday, January 15, starting from 7.30pm (8.30pm Nigeria time), before games against Libya at the same venue on Friday, January 19 (starting from 4.30pm; 5.30pm Nigeria time) and Equatorial Guinea in Agadir on Tuesday, January 23 (starting 8pm Nigeria time).
Good as the players might be, the question on the lips of Nigerians is whether the jinx surrounding the country’s inability to lift the trophy can be broken this time around?
Prior to preparations for the championship, the team participated in an invitational Super Six tournament involving Kano Pillars, Akwa United, Enyimba International FC, Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) Football Club and winner of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), Plateau United Football Club.
At the end of the tournament, the CHAN Eagles lifted the trophy giving an impression that they are battle ready for the onslaught in Morocco.
President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, has charged the team to ensure that they come back with the trophy as all necessary arrangement has been put in place for the team’s participation at the tournament in Morocco.
“To whom much is given, much is expected. We are solidly behind the team and we’ve given them all the necessary support to excel and so we expect them to do well at the tournament and bring home the trophy,” said Pinnick.
Former Nigeria international, Sylvanus Okpala believes in the technical ability of Yusuf to guide the team to glory, adding that Nigeria can always rise to such challenges, even when one least expects.
“Although I don’t know most of the players in the team, I believe Nigeria is blessed with abundance of talented footballers who can rise to any challenge. I am sure they will excel,” he said.
According to him, coach Yusuf who has been at the helm for some time now will tinker a strategy that would see him carry out his technical plan for each game. “A coach needs a system, whether 4-2-4, 4-3-3 or whatever method one wants to adopt, one must have a strategy to achieve it.
“I trust in Yusuf’s experience and technical know-how to confront any opposition. Nigeria football has the capacity to achieve at any level,” he said.
Super Eagles defender, Shehu Abdullahi also tipped the CHAN Eagles to succeed in Morocco and break the jinx.
“Best of luck guys! I’m behind the group. Success!” the Anorthosis defender Abdullahi wrote on his Twitter.
Yusuf has assured that the team is ready for the CHAN tournament.
“We have done the needful; we trained as expected of every hard working team to blend for good results.
“The team is up and doing and I am confident that the players are in form and on top of their game to play matches satisfactorily in CHAN,’’ Yusuf said.
Team captain and Russia 2018 World Cup bound keeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa also promised that the team would not disappoint at this year’s CHAN tournament.
“It is going to be a different ball game for this year’s CHAN tournament. We are battle ready for the tournament.
“We know what is at stake especially since the country has never won the trophy, but I want to assure that we will do our very best to break the jinx and bring the trophy home.
“We have some of the best players in the local league in the team and I want to state that we are equal to the task in Morocco.
“It is not going to be easy but with hard work and determination on our part, we will not disappoint the country,” he said.
The Enyimba International of Aba goaltender, however, called on Nigerians to pray for the success of the team.
“In all things, we need prayers. While we will be playing on the field for the country, Nigerians especially football lovers should be praying for our success,” he begged.
Meanwhile, the die is cast, the stage is set for the tournament to begin and with Nigeria’s first Group C match on Monday against Rwanda, a victory will definitely enhance the chances of the team to go far in the tournament and probably bring home the trophy for the first time.
The post Will Yusuf Break CHAN Jinx For Nigeria? appeared first on Independent Nigeria.
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Author: Ayo Bada