Let the

games begin


And no, we're not talking about Jackie, the film star and martial artist. We mean the African Nations Championship, starting on 16 January in Rwanda. The competition has taken place since 2009, in addition to the Africa Cup of Nations. While the latter is the counterpart to the European Championships, this tournament, still in its infancy, has several features.

It starts with the players: only professionals who play in the leagues of their home country can take part – those playing their trade in Europe are therefore not entitled to play. It started with just eight teams, but in 2011 the number had already risen to 16. There was no tournament in 2013, but it was played again in 2014 and the next tournament is set to take place in 2016. We have taken a look at the participants, the qualification and the favourites and can reveal what football fans can look forward to in 2016.

At the same time as the qualification for the 2016 European Championships in France, the African continent was also finding participants for its international tournament. Qualification for CHAN 2016 was already concluded in October; 16 nations – including the host country – will take part. Up to now there have been three different winners: In 2009, the team from DR Congo lifted the trophy, followed by Tunisia in 2011. In 2014, the Libyan team won. Ghana have lost in the final twice, but top the all-time finals table – they have managed to gather 20 points in a total of 14 games, however, that has not yet been enough for a final victory. That's set to remain the case in 2016 as the team missed out on participation in the final tournament to the Ivory Coast.

In qualification several teams have shown themselves to be rather strong: Morocco, for example, finished a clear first in the North Zone with three wins and a draw in four games. Libya, the holders, finished last in this group. In the final round of qualifying games in Zone West B, the Ivory Coast knocked traditionally strong Ghana out of the competition, making them one of the clear favourites. Uganda qualified from the Central-East Zone with equal superiority, conceding a single goal in two games while scoring eight themselves. The Democratic Republic of Congo, winners of the first tournament, had no problems qualifying with an aggregate score of 6-0 against the Central African Republic. Cameroon and Gabon also qualified from the Central Zone.

South Africa, hosts of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, narrowly lost out against Angola. After losing 0-2 in the first leg, a 2-1 win in the second leg against Angola wasn't enough.

Who are the favourites? Traditionally strong African teams such as Ghana, Libya and South Africa have already bowed out at the qualification stage. Morocco, DR Congo and Nigeria look particularly strong, plus Mali qualified for the finals with relative ease. The two latterly mentioned teams are mainly known for their impressive youth players: they largely still play in their national leagues and were cause for furore this year at the U-17 World Cup: the boys from Nigeria lifted the trophy, beating Mali 2-0 in the final. It is therefore quite possible that we will get to see one or the other youth player at the Nations Championship next year.

However, three different winners at three tournaments makes it difficult to pick out a favourite. After all, not many people saw Libya coming at the previous tournament, so a surprise winner in 2016 can by no means be ruled out. In particular the fact that every country has to make do without their respective stars playing in the European leagues does not make an assessment easy.

This has the advantage that young, unknown faces will get into the limelight, which may open the door to the strong European leagues for one or the other player at this international tournament. Whoever wins – this tournament promises exciting games, a great atmosphere and lots and lots of goals. Not even Jackie Chan can compete with that.    

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