The seventh Total African Nations Championship kicks-off this evening as host nation Cameroon takes on Zimbabwe in the curtain-raiser of the football tournament.
The 2021 CHAN will be the 6th edition of the tournament which exclusively features players from the respective national leagues.
It was originally scheduled for April 4 to 25, 2020 in Cameroon. However, CAF announced on March 17, 2020 that the tournament had been postponed to a later date due to coronavirus.
The tournament will now be held from today to February 7, 2021.
The Warriors of Zimbabwe are making their fifth CHAN appearance, and they will be looking to begin their Group A campaign on the front foot at the Yaounde Omnisport Stadium.
Head coach Martin Ndtoungou Mpile has been recalled for his second stint in charge of Cameroon, after guiding the Indomitable Lions to the quarter-finals of the 2016 African Nations Championship in Rwanda.
Cameroon has never made it past the quarter-final and crashed out in the group stages in 2011 and 2016, but Mpile and his team have been tasked to go a step further and improve in this year’s edition.
The Lions’ current form is, however, worrying for the fans, who watched their nation fall to a disappointing draw against Uganda, before suffering defeats to Niger and Zambia in last week’s pre-CHAN invitational competition.
Zimbabwe sealed their CHAN 2020 spot after impressive wins against Mauritius and Lesotho, scoring 10 goals and conceding two in four qualifying games.
The Zimbabwe Football Association appointed 54-year-old Croatian Zdravko Logarusic as head coach of the senior national team following his two-year stint with Sudan.
The Warriors’ final preparations for the tournament were also dealt a huge blow as nine players and five coaching staff members tested positive for coronavirus.
The absence of Prince Dube has left a void for Zimbabwe to fill, as the Azam FC forward put his attacking prowess on display at the competition’s qualifying stage, where he bagged the highest goal-scorer award.
Logarusic’s men will aim to surpass their 2014 CHAN run, where they finished fourth after losing to Libya on penalties in the semi-finals.
Cameroon have called up Yannick Ndjeng and Jacques Zoua, and Mpile will be relying on the AS Futuro duo to bring experience to the Lions’ attack.
Stade Renard man Alfred Meyong Etong was a standout performer for the Lions in last week’s friendly competition, and the 29-year-old is expected to be handed a starting role on Saturday.
On the other hand, the Zimbabwe squad is battling to regain full fitness as nine of the 23 traveling players return from self-isolation after contracting the Covid-19 virus.
Prince Dube is ineligible to take part this year after he signed for Azam FC in the Tanzanian top flight, but Bulawayo Chiefs’ forward Farawo Matare is expected to come in for the 29-year-old.
Cameroon possible starting lineup: Dande; Ngombe, Banga, Andoulo, Ngombe; Oukine, N’Djeng, Atangana; Badoudana; Zoua, Meyong
Zimbabwe possible starting lineup: Nelson Chadya, Qadr Amini, Talent Chamboko, Ian Nekati, Andrew Mbeba, Shadreck Nyahwa, Richard Hachiro, Denver Mukamba, King Nadolo, Obrey Chirinda, Farawo Matare.
Here is a team by team guide of Group A
Group A will feature Cameroon, Mali, Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe.
The hosts will be taking part in their fourth CHAN tournament.
Having failed to qualify for the inaugural edition in 2009, the Indomitable Lions would take the next edition by storm.
Cameroon won all their group games without conceding a single goal but succumbed to a penalty shoot out loss to Angola in the quarter finals. To date, they remain the only side to be eliminated from the tournament at the knockout stage without conceding a single goal.
After a decent outing in 2011, Cameroon provided the first shock of the 2014 edition as the failed to qualify for the finals in South Africa.
They however bounced back in 2016 (Rwanda) where they once again reached the last 8 after topping their group with 7 points. They were humbled by Ivory Coast 3-0 after extra time and bowed out of the competition.
In 2018, the Indomitable Lions suffered their worst performance at the finals.
Defeats to Congo and Angola coupled with a 1-1 draw against Burkina Faso would see Cameroon finish bottom of their group and as a consequence, they were eliminated at the group stage.
In their home edition, Cameroon who have won five AFCON titles and without a doubt one of African football giants will be yearning for glory.
They will be under the guidance of Portuguese former defender Toni Conceicao who took over from Dutch legend Clarence Seadorf in 2019.
How they qualified
Cameroon booked their spot at the tournament as the hosts.
As part of their preparations, Cameroon hosted and took part in a pre-tournament event where they performed miserably poor.
In their three games, they lost twice (Zambia and Niger) and drew once (Uganda) to finish bottom of the pile with just a single point.
Mali will be taking part in their fourth CHAN tournament.
Just like Cameroon, the Eagles failed to qualify for the inaugural edition in Ivory Coast.
Their first appearance at the finals was in 2011 in Sudan where they failed to make it out of the group stage.
After losing to both Ivory Coast and Cameroon, Mali would draw 1-1 with DR Congo to finish bottom of their group with just a single point.
2014 would see Mali improve on their performance at the finals as they reached the quarter finals before losing 2-1 to Zimbabwe.
The Eagles’ best performance at the finals would come in the 2016 edition in Rwanda.
After two draws and a victory over Zimbabwe in group D, Mali would reach the quarter finals as runners ups with five points.
In the last eight, they overcame Tunisia 2-1 to storm the semis where they took care of Ivory Coast 1-0.
The final would result into a heart break as the Eagles were thumped 3-0 by DR Congo.
Mali did not qualify for the 2028 edition in Morocco.
Having never won a continental title before, Mali will be looking at CHAN 2021 as a good opportunity to finally win something.
The Eagles will be under the guidance of former footballer Mohamed Magassouba who took charge of the team in 2017.
How they qualified
Mali had to go through two qualifying rounds (Western Zone A) to reach the 2021 finals.
First, they took care of Guinea Bissau 4-2 on aggregate in the Preliminary round before overcoming Mauritania 3-2 at the final qualifying round.
Burkina Faso will be taking part in their third CHAN tournament.
The Stallions failed to qualify for the first two editions in Ivory Coast and Sudan respectively.
Their first appearance was in South Africa 2014 where they finished bottom of Group B with one point.
Burkina’s struggles in the tournament were compounded by inability to qualify for the next CHAN finals in Rwanda.
They then bounced back in 2018 where they slightly improved on their 2014 showing but still failed to get out of the group.
Two draws and a loss saw them finish third in a group that featured Congo, Angola and Cameroon.
Under the guidance of former national team footballer, Kamou Malo, Burkina Faso will be hoping to reach the knockout stages for the first time.
How they qualified
Burkina Faso qualified via the Western Zone B.
They received a bye in the first round of qualification before eliminating Ghana 1-0 on aggregate in the second round to book their spot at the finals.
This will be Zimbabwe’s fifth appearance at the CHAN finals.
The first came in the inaugural edition in 2009 where they were eliminated at the group stage after drawing all their three games and finishing third.
The Warriors made an instant return to the finals in Sudan 2011 but again failed to make it out of the group stages.
Just like in 2009, they finished third in their group with three points after winning once and losing twice.
2014 would see Zimbabwe register their best performance at the finals to date. Drawn in Group B, Zimbabwe went through as the runners-up with five points after winning one and drawing the other two games.
At the quarter-finals, they beat Mali 2-0 to reach the last four where they fell to Libya on penalties.
The Warriors would eventually finish fourth after losing 1-0 to Nigeria in the third-place play-off game.
Zimbabwe’s latest appearance at the finals came in Rwanda 2016 where they failed to negotiate their way past the group stage after finishing bottom of Group D with just a single point.
They did not qualify for Morocco 2018. In Cameroon, they will be under the guidance of Croatian-former Sudan coach Zdravko Logarusic who took charge of the team in 2019.
How they qualified
Zimbabwe received a bye in the first round of qualification in the Southern zone. In the second round, they powered past Mauritius 7-1 on aggregate before taking care of Lesotho 3-1 in the third (round) to seal a spot at the finals. The Herald