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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Themes and Players to Watch at the CHAN

Africa’s first senior-level competition since the global pandemic is kicking off on Saturday as the African Nations Championship commences in Cameroon following a couple of delays. Featuring players exclusively based in the countries they represent, the tournament will be an opportunity for young players to gain exposure and domestically-based veterans to represent their nation at a high level. Here is Pan-Africa Football’s list of players and themes to follow throughout the tournament.

Morocco are the favorites until proven otherwise

Make no mistake, Morocco is the team that everyone else will have to go through in order to win the trophy. The rise to prominence of the country’s domestic scene is well documented, and their 2018 CHAN title is a major reason why. Bringing a squad that features multiple players from Raja Casablanca, Wydad, and RS Berkane, there will be plenty of players who have been tested at the highest levels of CAF football. Leading scorer of the 2018 tournament Ayoub El Kaabi will be back for this edition following his return to Wydad from Chinese football. The team will be very difficult to break down as well with multiple members of RS Berkane’s stingy defense being called up. 

How will the hosts look?

Looking at the exhibition match results and what experts in the country are saying, the prognosis is not positive for the Intermediate Lions. Martin Ndtoungou Mpile was hired a few months back in a bit of a panic move to try and bring some stability to the squad, but the team has only shown more moments where they lack fluidity. Because Mpile brought in a new foundation of players and changed things around, it appears that Cameroon has squandered any opportunity to develop team chemistry ahead of the tournament and will be lucky to advance out of their group. 

How fierce will the Leopards be?

With past success in winning the CHAN in 2016 and sporting plenty of players from renowned club TP Mazembe for this edition, the squad for DR Congo appears strong, but the squad selection has set off debate in the country. Coach Florent Ibenge’s pedigree in African football is well-regarded but leaving out past stars such as former CAF Africa Based Player of the Year Tresor Mputu has left plenty of speculation as to whether the team will be strong enough to compete. However, there are still some senior national team veterans like full-back Issama Mpeko and Ley Matambi that give reason to believe the team will be favorites to win Group C. 

Guinea and the Horoya contingent

Horoya AC have set a new standard for West African club football and the Guinean club will be well represented at this edition of the CHAN, though key player Boniface Haba will be unavailable. It is clear that Guinea want to make a statement at this tournament and it will be interesting to see how the squad copes with expectation. Despite Haba’s absence, his club teammate Morlaye Sylla will be one of the players to watch at the tournament. The 22-year-old creative midfielder can break down defenses with his passing, dribbling, and ability to shoot with either foot. As seen in the first clip below, his set pieces are at an advanced level as well: