The CHAN Eagles will today kick-start their campaign for the African Championship of Nations (CHAN) glory, as they clash against 2016 host, Rwanda, in Tangier. The searchlight is now beamed to the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) players, who now have the hope of making it to the World Cup in Russia if deemed good by Coach Gernot Rohr.
Rohr had made it clear that only outstanding players at the tournament in Morocco would be considered for a place in the team going for the Mundial. This then leaves the destiny of the NPFL players securely in their own hands with Franco-German tactician Rohr must name his 23-man team for the World Cup finals 48 hours after the prestige friendly with England’s Three Lions at Wembley on June 2.
The race therefore begins furious and fast today and Rwanda’s Amavubi, who have been victims to Nigerian teams on several occasions in decent memory, are on the firing line at the Stade Ibn Batouta, from 7.30pm Moroccan time (8.30pm Nigeria). The match comes up after the Group C opener between 2014 champions Libya and Equatorial Guinea, which starts at 5.30pm Nigeria time.
At the same venue, four days later, the Eagles file out against 2014 champions Libya, and Morocco’s Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Moha Ou Ali Tagma already warned the Eagles to beware of a team that is actually the A team of the North African nation.“You see Libya could be difficult because not many of their players go outside the country. So, in truth, it is practically the A team that is coming to the CHAN,” Tagma said last week.
Equatorial Guinea will be the opposition in the Eagles’ final match of the group phase at the Stade Adrar in Agadir on the evening of 23rd January.
Head Coach Salisu Yusuf told thenff.com: “The players know what is at stake. We are not here just for the CHAN. Everyone is thinking of the World Cup as well. For the players, they have a massive opportunity to play their way into the A team for the big one in Russia.
“However, at every opportunity, myself and my assistants have made it clear to the boys that they must work as a team. If they win the tournament, the chances of several players making the team to Russia will be high. No man can clap with only one hand. Team work is key in this business.” Incidentally, Yusuf is deputy to Rohr in the A squad, and the latter will watch the matches from the stands in Morocco.
Rohr said: “The CHAN is a major competition and opportunity for us to take another look at the home boys. There could be some of them who will convince the technical crew that they can fight for places in the A team.”Of the 16 teams taking part in the 23 –day tournament, only players of hosts Morocco and Nigeria are inspired by the possibility of being drafted into their main teams for the FIFA World Cup.
Certainly, Morocco’s players showed what that kind of motivation could amount to, when they hammered neighbours Mauritania 4-0 in Saturday’s opening match in Casablanca. Ayoub el Kaabi scored two of the goals. Africa’s three other Russia 2018 flagbearers, viz Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal are not in Morocco. Egypt qualified but forfeited their slot and that enabled Rwanda (Nigeria’s opponents on Monday) to sneak in ahead of Ethiopia via a play-off.
Tunisia won the 2011 competition, beating Angola in the final in Sudan. But the team that would be missed the most is the Democratic Republic of Congo, who won the 2009 and 2016 championships, but were rendered ineligible for Morocco 2018 on the away goal rule by neighbours Congo Brazzaville.
For Nigeria, goalkeeper and skipper Ikechukwu Ezenwa already has a stead in the A team, as he won applause for performances against Cameroun home-and-away in the race to Russia, and was also in goal for the away tie to Algeria in Constantine on the final day of the series.
Oladele Ajiboye, number one goalkeeper of reigning Nigeria champions Plateau United, won the World Cup with Nigeria’s U17 team 11 years ago and has featured for the U-20 and U-23 teams. Defender Osas Okoro, midfielder Rabiu Ali and forward Anthony Okpotu impressed at the WAFU Cup of Nations in Ghana in September 2017.
Enugu Rangers’ full back Kalu Orji Okogbue has been in the A team camp previously, and defender Stephen Eze and midfielder Ifeanyi Ifeanyi have also sniffed the oxygen in that territory.Plateau United’s Daniel James, Enyimba’s Augustine Oladapo and Emeka Atuloma of Rivers United are capable of springing surprises.New boys, Sunday Faleye, Ifeanyi Nweke and Dayo Ojo also have the ability to rise to the occasion in North Africa and give Mr. Rohr pleasant problems.