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A Look Back: Players whose careers benefitted from the CHAN

The role of the African Nations Championship in providing career opportunities for the players who excel continues to evolve with the tournament’s growth. Following the conclusion of a couple of CAF’s tournaments (CHAN and AFCON U-20) that feature heavily in the transfer market, Pan-Africa Football takes a look back at how these sorts of competitions have led to opportunities abroad. Starting with the African Nations Championship and news of players from the latest edition making moves, here are some examples from the prior three CHAN tournaments along with how they fared abroad and video of the moments that put them in the spotlight:

Ayoub El Kaabi (CHAN 2018 & 2020) – Morocco

No article on players who have excelled in the CHAN is complete without Moroccan forward Ayoub El Kaabi. The 27-year-old current Wydad Casablanca player scored an astounding nine goals to set a top scorer mark that will likely not be surpassed for a while. Displaying all the desirable traits in a complete #9 forward, El Kaabi’s speed, ability in the air and contribution to the buildup was remarkable to witness in both of Morocco’s championship runs. A big money move to Hebei in China did not work out but the CHAN and Moroccan football have been a wonderful showpiece for El Kaabi to establish himself as one of Africa’s top strikers.

Meschak Elia – DR Congo (CHAN 2016)

The current Young Boys Bern forward was something to behold in the 2016 edition held in Rwanda. Meschak was only 18-years-old and playing for little known CS Don Bosco before the tournament but fearlessly attacked defenders off the dribble and generally created havoc, scoring four goals and winning Best Player. Following the tournament Meschak stayed in the city of Lubumbashi but moved to legendary club TP Mazembe, winning two CAF Confederation Cup titles (2016 & 2017) before moving to Switzerland last year.

Ali Musrati – Libya (CHAN 2014)

Similarly to Meschak, Ali Musrati was very young when he made his splash at the CHAN and also took a couple of years before moving to Europe. The 18-year-old was at Al-Ittihad Tripoli when he was a key cog in Libya’s run to the 2014 final, displaying an advanced proficiency at breaking up opposition attacks and showing maturity with the ball in the center of midfield. Over two years later the then 20-year-old moved to Vitória Guimarães and progressed through their reserve team, ending up at top Portuguese side Sporting Braga where he is currently.

Yunus Sentamu – Uganda (CHAN 2014)

The CECAFA representative here, Yunus Sentamu managed to make a major impact at the 2014 CHAN despite Uganda failing to advance out of their group. A double to help the Cranes defeat Burkina Faso in their Group B opener put the 19-year-old on the radar of North African clubs before an excellent strike against Morocco made a transfer imminent. After the tournament Sentamu’s struggles to find club stability represents an issue many players from East Africa have when they draw interest. Brief time at Congolese team AS Vita Club led to a failed move to Tunisia with CS Sfaxien followed by unfulfilling spells in Albania and Finland. Sentamu is now back in Uganda with Vipers SC where he is resurrecting his career, scoring seven goals in ten games this season.

Serge N’Guessan – Ivory Coast (CHAN 2016)

Central midfielder Serge N’Guessan’s rise was rapid. The smooth dribbling creative player was at AFAD Djékanou, a team that had finished the prior Ivory Coast”s Ligue 1 season in 10th place before the tournament. N’Guessan was playing Ligue 1 football after the 2016 CHAN, but this time in France. It is easy to see in the video below why Nancy signed N’Guessan with his close ball control and explosive acceleration. Now 26, the small midfielder has continued to be a rotation player at Nancy as the club endured relegation.

Kudakwashe Mahachi – Zimbabwe (CHAN 2014)

The COSAFA representative on this list, Kudakwashe Mahachi was instrumental in Zimbabwe’s 2014 run to the semi-finals before the team lost on penalties to Libya. The 20-year-old midfielder’s quickness and relentless energy on both defense and attack set the stage for his game winning goal in the quarter-finals against Mali. As seen in many Zimbabweans who distinguish themselves in CAF or COSAFA competition, Mahachi moved to South Africa’s PSL. The former Highlanders FC and Chicken Inn player struggled initially at Mamelodi Sundowns before his career was sparked by spending the 2015-16 season on loan at Golden Arrows. Now at SuperSport United he has made over 100 appearances in the PSL.

Sékou Koïta – Mali (CHAN 2016)

The current Red Bull Salzburg forward Sékou Koïta made use of international competition at all levels but his appearances in the CHAN were an excellent follow up to an impressive FIFA U-17 World Cup. Only 17 for the 2016 edition in Rwanda, Koïta was part of an impressive Mali squad that progressed to final before bowing out to DR Congo. Showing a bit of everything as an attacker, the young player picked out smart passes and was threatening on the dribble. Koïta has been progressing well at Salzburg by using loan moves to feeder club FC Liefering and Wolfsberger to become a regular at the UEFA Champions League regulars.

Ibrahima Sory Sankhon – Guinea (CHAN 2016 & 2018)

Playing as a central midfielder for Guinea, Ibrahima Sory Sankhon excelled at two CHAN tournaments in a similar fashion to Ayoub El Kaabi. Currently 25, the former Horoya player scored three goals between the two tournaments and did everything in the Syli Nationale midfield. His technical skill was apparent but versatility has been a calling card for Sory Sankhon following his 2018 move to Sint-Truiden in Belgium with use at center-back and right-back.

Shehu Abdullahi- Nigeria (CHAN 2014)

Shehu Abdullahi was an important part of the local-based Eagles in 2014 with his ball-winning work and skill transitioning the team from defense to offense. Nigeria’s thrilling run came to an end in the semi-finals against Ghana but the 21-year-old Kano Pillars midfielder established himself and began his journey abroad thanks to his performances. Starting with a move to Kuwaiti side Qadsia SC, Abdullahi has worked his way to Portugal, Turkey and now Cyprus where he played Europa League football with AC Omonia this season.

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