Morocco’s surprise showing, by roaring into the semi-final at Qatar 2022, put the continent on football’s world map.
African teams have increasingly shown promise for the showpiece tournament, but this time delivered with Morocco’s Atlas Lions.
There have been a plethora of excuses for Africa not being able to lift an international trophy, such as poor disciplinary, not enough preparation, errors creeping in at vital moments as well as the last-minute recruitment of foreign coaches.
Yet the winter tournament signalled a significant change, with all five African teams led by a home-grown head coach for the very first time.
Walid Regragui, only installed as head coach 100 days before the highly-lucrative FIFA World Cup finals kicked off, was a gamble that paid dividends for the ambitious Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF).
Morocco raced through their group games with the meanest defence. They kept clean sheets against European heavyweights Croatia and Belgium before conceding an own goal in their victory over Canada, which propelled them to finish as group winners.
Senegal, the only other African side to progress from the group stages in the Middle East, impressed until they were outmanoeuvred in their last 16 clash with rampant England.
Yet it’s going to be a very different ball game when Algeria hosts the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN). This is because all 17 teams can only call upon players who ply their trade in their respective local leagues.
It would have been 18 nations but Uganda pulled out of the tournament, citing lack of funds. Moses Magogo, president of the Federation of Uganda Football Associations, claimed that the government failed to provide the promised funding.
In contrast, Morocco are purring along nicely. Regragui masterminded a scoreless draw and a penalty shootout success over the Spanish at Qatar 2022, a win that was an historic day for the Atlas Lions, for Africa, for Arabs and for Muslims. Morocco had registered their first-ever World Cup finals knockout stage win.
Morocco face a real test at repeating the same sort of success at the CHAN, as they will be without stars who shine for big-name European clubs, although they are the defending champions having beaten Mali 2-0 in 2020.
However, Morocco should be just as fearless at the CHAN as they were in Qatar. They have been honing talent at clubs, schools as well as overseas thanks to the FMRF’s long-term plans, instigated in 2009 with the financial backing of King Mohammed VI.
Although the Atlas Lions’ strengths are solid defending and intuitive counter-attacking, they are not favourites to lift the CHAN trophy.
The CHAN offers a huge challenge on the big stage, which the continent’s elite sides will tackle from mid-January and conclude on 4 February. Odds are constantly changing about who will triumph and which player could scoop the Golden Boot, but if you fancy a flutter then it is a good idea to make use of bonus offers such as this Palmerbet bonus code that is popular among Aussies.
Cameroon, who stunned a much-changed Brazilian team 1-0 at Qatar 2022, have been installed as favourites (+530) ahead of Morocco (+700) and the Ivory Coast (+800).
They reached the semi-finals on home soil at the last CHAN, but head coach Alioum Saidou is focused on bagging the top prize this time. Cameroon are the seeded side in Group E with Congo and Niger. With Mali the seeds set to tackle Angola and Mauritania in Group D.
Ethiopia, who upset Egypt in the qualifiers, is one of only a handful of African teams that is primarily composed of local-based players. They compete in Group A with hosts Algeria, 2014 CHAN champions Libya and Mozambique.
Ivory Coast, who failed to reach Qatar 2022, will square off with two-time champions DR Congo and Senegal in Group B. Uganda were due to compete in Group B.
The Ivory Coast are third favourites to clinch the CHAN title. Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse will be seeking glory in his third crack at winning the CHAN.
Morocco are expected to top Group C, after locking horns with Ghana, Madagascar and Sudan.
Ghana, yet to win the CHAN, failed to win a game in the group stages of AFCON but reached the World Cup finals. The Black Stars’ head coach, recently installed to turn things around, is German-born ex-Ghana international Otto Addo.
With the CHAN postponed from last year, things have altered with some teams having competed at the World Cup finals to offer insight as to who is the favourite. The competition has a fascinating history, with all 17 teams desperate to get their hands on the coveted trophy.