2018 African Nations Championship: Group-by-group guide
The fifth edition of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) kicks off in Morocco on Saturday, with holders DR Congo notable by their absence.
The Confederation of African Football (Caf) introduced the tournament in 2009 when Ivory Coast hosted an eight-team finals that was won by DR Congo.
In 2011, the tournament – hosted by Sudan – expanded to 16 teams with Tunisia emerging as winners before Libya lifted the trophy in South Africa in 2014 and DR Congo won again in 2016, when Rwanda staged the finals.
The holders and record two-time champions will not be in Morocco however, after losing to Congo Brazzaville in qualifying.
BBC Sport’s Nick Cavell, Oluwashina Okeleji and Mohamed Fajah Barrie take a look at the 16 contenders vying to win the final on 4 February in Casablanca.
GROUP A (Casablanca):
Coach: Jamal Sellami
CHAN Appearances: 2014, 2016 Best: Quarter-Finals (2014)
Fixtures: Mauritania – 13 January, Guinea – 17 January, Sudan – 21 January.
Did you know? The squad has 12 players who ply their trade in Casablanca with six each from African champions Wydad and city rivals Raja.
Sellami’s team includes Achraf Bencharki, who scored five goals in the 2017 Champions League campaign and who is hoping to impress national team coach Herve Renard ahead of June’s World Cup.
The Moroccan team defeated their Cameroonian counterparts 3-1 last Saturday in Casablanca in the build-up to the championship.
The hosts will play the tournament with one eye on winning the trophy and the other on trying to force their way into a mainly-overseas-based senior squad, as Russia 2019 looms.
Qualification: Morocco beat Egypt to qualify from the North Zone, before stepping in to replace Kenya as hosts for the tournament.
Coach: Corentin Martins (also coach of main national team)
CHAN Appearance: 2014 Best: Group stage
Fixtures: Morocco – 13 January, Sudan – 17 January, Guinea – 21 January (Marrakech).
Did you know? Mauritania will be looking for their first ever win at a CHAN after losing all three of their matches at their sole previous appearance in 2014 (against DR Congo, Burundi and Gabon).
The 2014 CHAN is – to date – Mauritania’s only appearance at a major football tournament.
Most recently they lost 3-1 to Mali in the opening phase of the 2017 Wafu Nations Cup in Ghana.
Qualification: Beat Liberia (2-1 on aggregate) and Mali (agg: 3-2) in West A Zone.
Coach: Kanfory Lape Bangoura (also national coach)
CHAN Appearance: 2016 Best: Fourth (2016)
Fixtures: Sudan – 14 January, Morocco – 17 January, Mauritania – 21 January.
Did you know? Champions Horoya FC have eight players in the squad including striker Sekou Amadou Camara, who finished the qualifiers as the top scorer with eight goals. Four of these came in a single game against Guinea Bissau. The 20-year-old will hope to use this tournament as a return to bigger things, having already played in the lower divisions in Belgium.
Guinea were impressive in front of goal in qualifying – with 16 goals in just four ties – and they will look to use that prowess to improve on a fourth-place finish last time out.
The squad has been in Morocco for a while, having attended a training camp in the North African nation.
Qualification: Beat Guinea Bissau (agg: 10-1) and then Senegal (agg: 6-3) in West A Zone.
Coach: Zdravko Logarusic (also national coach)
CHAN Appearance: 2011 (hosts) Best: Third (2011)
Fixtures: Guinea – 14 January, Mauritania – 17 January, Morocco – 21 January.
Did you know? Sudan’s only appearance at the CHAN was as hosts in the second tournament in 2011, when they finished third.
The Nile Crocodiles will be one of the few teams in Morocco whose CHAN team is also close to being their full national team.
Their build-up to the tournament has been far from successful after losing 3-1 at home to Madagascar in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in June.
A recent warm-up game during a training camp in Tunisia against Rwanda had to be abandoned after just a few minutes after fights broke out between rival players. Days later, the team lost 3-1 against Ivory Coast.
Qualification: Beat Burundi (agg: 1-0) and Ethiopia (agg: 2-1) in Central East Zone
GROUP B (Marrakech):
Coach: Sebastien Desabre (also national coach)
CHAN Appearances: 2011, 2014, 2016 Best: Group stage
Fixtures: Zambia – 14 January, Namibia – 18 January, Ivory Coast – 22 January.
Did you know? Frenchman Sebastien Desabre attended his first training session with his squad just hours after being unveiled as coach in late December.
Desabre is hoping to improve on Uganda’s three previous performances at CHAN when they have won just once in nine matches (with three draws).
His squad includes Shaba Mohamad, the golden boot winner at last year’s Under-20 Cosafa Cup when he helped Uganda finish fourth as a guest side at the southern African championship.
A total of eight Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) players are available for Desabre.
Qualification: Beat South Sudan (agg: 5-1) and Rwanda (agg: 3-2) in Central East Zone.
Coach: Ibrahim Kamara
CHAN Appearances: 2009 (hosts), 2011, 2016 Best: Third (2016)
Fixtures: Namibia – 14 January, Zambia – 18 January, Uganda – 22 January.
Did you know? Hosts of the inaugural tournament in 2009, Ivory Coast are still searching for their first Chan title at their fourth attempt, with their best finish so far coming in Rwanda two years ago.
CHAN coach Ibrahim Kamara has called up six players from Ivory Coast’s most famous club – Asec Mimosas – but it was a trio from another club, SC Gagnoa, who scored all their goals in a 3-1 warm-up win over Sudan in Tunisia.
Qualification: Beat Niger (2-2 on agg: won on away goals) in West B Zone.
Coach: Ricardo Mannetti (also national coach)
CHAN Appearances: None Best: N/A
Fixtures: Ivory Coast – 14 January, Uganda – 18 January, Zambia – 22 January (Marrakech).
Did you know? Namibia are one of two countries that will make their debuts at the CHAN, along with Equatorial Guinea.
Ricardo Mannetti is another coach who can use the tournament as preparation for the 2019 Nations Cup qualifiers given the full national team largely relies on players from the Namibian league.
Mannetti said his squad, who prepared in Tunisia, “remain united, positive and our experience in the qualifiers is key to our success at the tournament.”
Qualification: Beat Zimbabwe (1-1 on agg; won on penalties) and Comoros (agg: 3-2) in South Zone.
Coach: Wedson Niyrenda (also national coach)
CHAN Appearances: 2009, 2016 Best: Third 2009
Fixtures: Uganda – 14 January, Ivory Coast – 18 January, Namibia – 22 January (Marrakech).
Did you know? Just three of the players who represented Zambia at the 2016 CHAN have made the final squad for Morocco – they are midfielder Jack Chira as well as defenders Donashano Malama and Andrian Chama.
Zambia decided against travelling north to prepare for the finals and completed their preparations with a 3-1 win over South African club Orlando Pirates in Johannesburg on Wednesday before they heading to Morocco. In what was their only warm-up game for the championship.
Qualification: Beat Swaziland (agg: 7-0) and South Africa (agg: 4-2) in South Zone.
GROUP C (Tangier):
Coach: Salisu Yusuf
CHAN Appearances: 2014, 2016 Best: Third 2014
Fixtures: Rwanda – 15 January, Libya – 19 January, Equatorial Guinea – 23 January (Agadir).
Did you know? Coach Salisu Yusuf is part of Gernot Rohr’s coaching staff for the full national team, yet most players going to the CHAN are unlikely to force themselves into the World Cup squad.
The exception will be CHAN captain – and regular Super Eagles goalkeeper – Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who will be hoping to cement his ticket to Russia.
Yusuf has picked five players from former African champions Enyimba and three from reigning league champions Plateau United.
A lack of adequate preparation could hamper the country’s quest for a first CHAN success since the Nigerian league wrapped up in early September and since then the players have only competed in that month’s Wafu Cup before winning an invitational tournament involving three Nigerian Premier League teams in December.
Qualification: Beat Benin (agg: 2-1) in West B Zone.
Coach: Rodolfo Bodipo
CHAN Appearances: None Best: N/A
Fixtures: Libya – 15 January, Rwanda – 18 January, Nigeria – 23 January (Agadir).
Did you know? Coach Rodolfo Bodipo is one of Equatorial Guinea’s most famous exports having played in Spain’s La Liga for Racing Santander, Alaves and Deportivo La Coruna.
Equatorial Guinea, who qualified after Gabon withdrew, will be making their maiden appearance at the CHAN.
Inactive since October, Bodipo’s team have relied on friendlies against local teams in Morocco and the Spain-born ex-international remains confident his team will shock Libya in their opening game on Monday.
Qualification: Given a walkover after the withdrawal of Gabon in Central Zone.
Coach: Omar Al-Maryami (also national coach)
CHAN Appearances: 2009, 2014 Best: Champions 2014
Fixtures: Equatorial Guinea – 15 January, Nigeria – 19 January, Rwanda – 23 January.
Did you know? The Mediterranean Knights have not played an international match at home since June 2013 due to the ongoing security problems in Libya.
Despite a domestic league that has been stop-start due to the unrest since 2011, Libya qualified for the 2012 African Cup of Nations, claimed their first senior African title at CHAN 2014 and finished third in their 2018 World Cup qualifying group.
Al-Maryami was only confirmed as coach last month after a deal for former Egypt international Hany Ramzy fell through.
Al-Maryami has largely kept faith with the squad that participated in the 2017 Cecafa Challenge Cup held in Kenya, where Libya failed to reach the knock-out stages after finishing third in their five-team group.
Qualification: Beat Algeria (agg: 3-2) in North Zone.
Coach: Antoine Hey (also national coach)
CHAN Appearances: 2011, 2014, 2016 (hosts) Best: Quarter-Finals 2016
Fixtures: Nigeria – 15 January, Equatorial Guinea – 19 January, Libya – 23 January.
Did you know? Rwanda were originally eliminated in qualifying by Uganda but were given a second chance after winning a two-legged play-off against Ethiopia. The play-off was set up after Morocco replaced Kenya as tournament hosts.
With Morocco having gone through qualifying, the place they freed up by qualifying as hosts was offered to Egypt – who rejected the place due to fixture congestion. Caf duly offered the place to the Central East Zone, which Kenya would have been part of, and the play-off between Ethiopia and Rwanda was organised.
The coach’s decision to include AS Kigali’s Dominique Savio Nshuti, Bugesera FC forward Barnabe Mubumbyi and Police FC defender Celestin Ndayishimiye – who have been largely inactive for their clubs – has not gone down well with the local media.
Hey, who has named six players each from Rayon Sports and APR, believes he has a squad capable of reaching the semi-finals at least.
Qualification: Beat Ethiopia (agg: 3-2) in a play-off in Central East Zone.
GROUP D (Agadir):
Coach: Rigobert Song
CHAN Appearances: 2011, 2016 Best: Quarter-Finals 2011, 2016
Fixtures: Congo – 16 January, Angola – 20 January, Burkina Faso – 24 January (Tangier).
Did you know? Former captain Rigobert Song picked his final 23-man squad from 16 different clubs as he hopes to blend the disparate parts into a cohesive unit.
Chaotic travel plans over the holiday period forced the local Indomitable Lions to twice change their departure date for a training camp in Morocco.
Song had a near death experience in 2016, whereupon it was widely reported on social media that he had died. But the legend recovered from a brain aneurysm to continue his role as manager of the CHAN team.
The former national captain won two Nations Cup titles, 137 caps and appeared at four World Cup tournaments during his playing career.
Qualification: Beat Sao Tome and Principe (agg: 4-0) in Central Zone.
Coach: Barthelemy Gatsono
CHAN Appearances: 2014 Best: Quarter-Finals 2014
Fixtures: Cameroon – 16 January, Burkina Faso – 20 January, Angola – 24 January.
Did you know? Coach Gatsono will be looking to La Mancha veteran Barel Mouko to inspire his young squad, with the goalkeeper having been capped 47 times at full international level.
Mouko, 38, played for clubs in France for 13 years before returning home to join AC Leopards in 2015.
Congo qualified the hard way by eliminating holders and neighbours DR Congo, who were favourites to qualify after a goalless draw in the first leg in Brazzaville only for the second leg in Kinshasa to end 1-1 and send the local Red Devils through on away goals.
Qualification: Beat DR Congo (1-1 agg: won on away goals) in Central Zone.
Coach: Srdjan Vasiljevic (also national coach)
CHAN Appearances: 2011, 2016 Best: Runners-Up 2011
Fixtures: Burkina Faso – 16 January, Cameroon – 20 January, Congo – 24 January.
Did you know? Angola is one of the few African countries where football has to battle to be the number one sport, since basketball is a serious rival.
Sports fans will hope their football team can fare better in Morocco than their basketball side, who failed to make the top four at the continental championships last year for the first time since 1981
Angola Football Federation boss Artur Almeida says the CHAN will serve as a crucial preparation for this year’s 2019 Nations Cup qualifiers. The Palancas Negras began with a 3-1 loss to Burkina Faso in June.
Angola only appointed Serbian coach Srdjan Vasiljevic last month after the man who sealed qualification, Brazilian Beto Bianchi, opted to focus on his other job as manager of local side Petro Atletico.
Qualification: Beat Mauritius (agg: 4-2) and then Madagascar (agg: 1-0) in South Zone.
Coach: Drissa ‘Saboteur’ Traoré
CHAN Appearances: 2014 Best: Group stage 2014
Fixtures: Angola – 16 January, Congo – 20 January, Cameroon – 24 January (Tangier).
Did you know? Burkina Faso were held to a 2-2 draw by visiting Ghana in the first leg of their qualifier before pulling off a shock by winning the second leg 2-1 in Kumasi.
Yet the local Stallions were brought down to earth on their return to Ghana a month later as they suffered a shock first-round exit at the regional 2017 Wafu Cup to Niger.
The Burkinabe have preparing in Tunisia and have included six players from Salitas FC in their 25-man provisional squad.
Qualification: Beat Ghana (agg: 4-3) in West B Zone.