Lagos – Nigeria’s home-based Super Eagles and 15 other countries’ teams will clash as the Championship of African Nations (CHAN) is scheduled to begin on Jan. 16 in Rwanda.
The tournament which will run from Jan. 16 to Feb. 7 is organised by the African Football Confederation (CAF), exclusively for African players who ply trade in their respective national leagues.
Rwanda, Gabon, Morocco, Cote d’ Ivoire, DR Congo, Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Nigeria, Niger, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Mali, Uganda and Zambia are the 16 countries that qualified for the competition.
The 16 countries have been drawn into four groups of four teams each.
The Super Eagles, third place finishers in the last edition, will have their hands full when they encounter 2011 quarter-finalists, Niger Republic on Jan. 18 in their first Group C match.
Similar encounters are lined up for the Sunday Oliseh-tutored side as they will also play 2011 champions Tunisia and debutants Guinea, in the group stage.
A win for the Super Eagles in the first game against Niger will boost the team’s confidence ahead of its second and third group games.
Overcoming Tunisia in the second group encounter will guarantee the team a place in the quarter-finals.
Hostilities in Group C will not be a “tea party’’ as debutants Guinea who qualified after three failed attempts will not want the opportunity to elude them.
They will want to prove a point in the tournament having eliminated Senegal in the qualifiers on away goals rule.
DR Congo won the maiden edition in 2009, while Tunisia won the second edition in 2011 before defending champions Libya who failed to qualify for the current edition, won it in 2014.
Four venues, including the Amahoro and the Stade Régional Nyamirambo Stadiums in Kigali, as well as Stade Huye, Butare and Umuganda Stadium, Gisenyi, have been designated to host the three-week tournament.
Rwanda will be the first nation in East Africa to host the CHAN tournament.
Sudan, another member of Council for East and Central Africa Football (CECAFA), hosted the event in 2011, while Kenya will have the chance to showcase their hosting abilities of it in 2018.
The Super Eagles’ second phase of camping is expected to end in Pretoria South Africa on Jan. 15 and they are expected to land in Rwanda on the same day.
Oliseh, the team’s boss, seems to be talking tough following his team’s preparation for the CHAN.
Going by his optimism, Oliseh appears to have set his eyes on the trophy; he has declared his team battle-ready for the competition.
The home-Eagles had, last week, played a 1-1 draw against the Angolan team in a pre-tournament match before a lone goal defeat in another preparatory friendly match against Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire on Jan. 11.
Oliseh, who spoke on the readiness of his team for the tournament, said he was confident that Nigeria would be the team to beat in Rwanda.
He said: “the preparation is okay and the spirit in camp is high with the players anxiously awaiting the kick-off of the competition.
“What I can say now is that we are on track and the boys are eager to go.’’
Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalong and Amaju Pinnick, President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), have urged the Eagles to ensure they lift the trophy.
While Dalong charged the team to sustain the tempo built by the country’s national teams at recent international competitions, Pinnick urged them not to disappoint Nigerians at the championship.
He implored them to work hard and surpass the country’s last CHAN record.
“We expect them to maintain the tempo of the victory that the players have set; I will be in Rwanda in solidarity with them and to encourage them.’’
Nigeria’s contingent to the tournament, made up of 22 players, is expected to depart South Africa for Rwanda on Jan. 15, three days to the team’s opening game against Niger Republic.
The game is scheduled for the Stade Regional Nyamirambo Stadium, Kigali.