Another edition of unique football tournament kicks off in Africa
The sixth edition of a football competition unique to Africa kicks off on Saturday with two matches between teams desperate for victories, and the announcement of new finals hosts.
eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) host Malawi and Botswana welcome the Seychelles in first round first leg qualifiers for the 2020 African Nations Championship (Chan) in Cameroon.
Botswana have gone 10 years without a win in a competition restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth, with Africa the only continent to cater for such players.
It is nine years since Malawi or the Seychelles have celebrated a Chan victory and eSwatini have never done so in 10 attempts.
Ethiopia were the original hosts of the 2020 finals, but withdrew after falling behind with preparations for the 16-team tournament next January and February.
“The stadiums are not ready and there are parliamentary elections next year which make it tricky for us to host the event,” explained Ethiopian football boss Esayas Jira.
Responding to the news from Addis Ababa, CAF president Ahmad Ahmad confirmed to reporters in Cairo that “Ethiopia had withdrawn.”
“We attributed it (Chan 2020) directly, by tacit agreement, to Cameroon,” added the Madagascar-born official.
It is the second successive Chan in which an east African country has been unable to meet preparations deadlines with Morocco replacing Kenya as 2018 hosts.
Cameroon are another state who fell foul of CAF timelines and Egypt had to belatedly step in as hosts of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations this June and July.
The Cameroonians have now been given the 2021 edition of the Cup of Nations instead and the Chan tournament will offer them a chance to test their readiness.
Chan was the brainchild of former CAF president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, who was surprisingly deposed by Ahmad in Addis Ababa two years ago.
The motive was to give home-based players a chance to experience international football as many African national teams are composed almost exclusively of foreign-based stars.
Chan also presents rising stars a chance to win lucrative contracts abroad with Moroccan striker Ayoub el Kaabi a good rags-to-riches example.
He was unheard of outside the north African kingdom before his nine goals in the finals helped Morocco hoist the trophy and won him a contract with Chinese club Hebei China Fortune.
El Kaabi, whose goal tally included one in the 4-0 final rout of Nigeria, was also voted the outstanding player of the tournament.
Other former champions are the Democratic Republic of Congo (2009, 2016), Tunisia (2011) and Libya (2014).
Apart from Morocco, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, South Africa and Rwanda have hosted Chan, with the number of finalists doubling from eight to 16 by the second edition.