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Home-based African stars get chance to shine

18 June 2015, 11:26

Johannesburg - Qualifying begins this weekend for the fourth African Nations Championship, a senior national football team competition unique to the continent.

Only home-based footballers are eligible, offering space on the international stage for many who would otherwise remain in the shadows.

Many African national teams, including Algeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal, are composed almost exclusively of foreign-based stars.

So the African Nations Championship -- or CHAN -- gives the best home talent a chance to don the national kit and display their skills.

Launched in 2008, the brainchild of Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou has been won by the Democratic Republic of Congo in Abidjan, Tunisia in Khartoum and Libya in Cape Town.

The shock Libyan triumph last year was remarkable as the north Africans won only one of their six matches, drawing the other five, including all three in the knock-out stages.

Libya triumphed in the 16-team competition thanks to penalty-kick accuracy and nerves of steel, winning a quarter-final, a semi-final, and the final against Ghana via shootouts.

They are among 42 countries chasing 15 places at the 2016 finals while Rwanda qualify automatically as hosts of the January 16-February 7 tournament.

A region-based draw pits Libya against Morocco and Tunisia with the top two after a double-round mini-league progressing.

The other five geographical areas will use a home-and-away knockout system with two or four games required to secure qualification.

A downside of going regional is that powerhouses can be drawn together and the pairing of Ghana and Ivory Coast later this year means one of them will miss the finals.

Of the 16 teams who competed at the 2014 Nations Championship in South Africa, 13 could qualify again.

But the draw means Mali or Mauritania, Burundi or Ethiopia and Nigeria or Burkina Faso cannot make successive appearances.

Fourteen preliminary-round, first-leg games are scheduled for this weekend -- one in the north, four in the west, three in the east and six in the south.

National coaches like Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba of South Africa, Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic of Uganda and Bobby Williamson of Kenya also handle CHAN assignments.

But others nations like Senegal separate the coaching of the senior and CHAN squads with Aliou Cisse stepping aside and Moustapha Seck handling the home-based stars.

Swaziland, who caused the biggest shock of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers last weekend by winning away to Guinea, can field virtually the same side when they host Angola in the CHAN.

Veteran midfielder Tony Tsabedze, whose brace sank the Guineans, has drawn attention from South African clubs and some plan to watch him at Somhlolo Stadium near Mbabane.

Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Mauritius and the Seychelles are other countries whose best players are predominantly home based.

Zimbabwe host Comoros Islands and could field five of the starters who shocked Malawi in the Cup of Nations, but scorers Cuthbert Malajila and Khama Billiat are ineligible because they play for South African clubs.

Return matches are set for July 3-5, and the first round for successive weekends during October.

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