The trending story as far as Zimbabwean football is concerned recently has been the ban to host international football matches by the African soccer governing body CAF. However it is worth noting that on the 4th of April the Total African Nations Championship commonly known CHAN kicks off. Allow me to formally reintroduce what exactly we mean by CHAN and to cut it short it is a biennial football tournament organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) exclusively featuring players from the respective national championships or leagues. This year’s edition will be hosted from the 4th to 25th of April 2020 in Cameroon. The tournament originally catered for 8 teams but has since been expanded to 16 teams since the second tournament in 2011 and the most successful team has been the DR Congo who have won it twice including the first ever tournament in 2009.
The Zimbabwe national football team the Warriors are no strangers to this tournament in actual fact of the 16 teams that have qualified for the tournament this time around,Zimbabwe alongside DR Congo and Uganda are the most successful teams in terms of qualification with 4 tournaments under their belts only missing one tournament apiece since the tournament debuted in 2009. The Warriors best performance at the tournament was in 2014 when they took 4th position; the tournament was hosted by neighbor’s South Africa. Did you know that the first player to score a CHAN goal in the first tournament in 2009 for Zimbabwe was none other than Ovidy Karuru in a 2-2 draw with Ghana, the game also featured a goal from Philip Marufu(remember him?)with Ghana getting both their goals though Ibrahim Ayew(Sibling to Andre Ayew).
Now we shift our attention to the impending tournament. Zimbabwe are drawn in Group B alongside hosts Cameroon, Mali and Burkina Faso, now if this was the reverse of this tournament i.e the Africa cup of nations this would certainly qualify as a proverbial ‘group of death’. However this is literally a different and totally new ball game because if we are to base the strength of the teams in Group B based on how their local teams have fared in the premier club football competition in the continent and the equivalent to the UEFA Champions League the CAF Champions League since this is where the players for this tournament will be picked we would not have much to go about because all four nations have only have 5 titles (all from Cameroon) between them with the last one coming in 1980. In terms of CHAN pedigree Mali are the team that have gone farthest as they were losing finalists at the 2016 tournament but the hosts Cameroon are also not to be overlooked as they have made it out of the group stages in two of their previous three tournaments but have been knocked out at the quarter final stage on both occasions. So in all essence it is essentially a level playing field so Zimbabwe has a realistic chance of advancing past the group stage and try to emulate or better their 2014 heroics.
In terms of preparing for the tournament so far the newly appointed Warriors coach from Croatia Zdravko Logarusic commonly known as Loga has managed to put together a provisional 28 man squad which is expected to be trimmed to a final squad of 23 players. Also a 10 day camp in the month of March has been suggested which will also see Zimbabwe involved in Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Algeria, this will give the gaffer a bit of time to assess his locally based players as the local season is currently off-season. However it should be noted that this is a major drawback in that all the nations we face have their seasons matching the European format which is to say they are currently playing their 2019/20 season which means that Zimbabwe runs the risk of taking players who are not currently match fit when the tournament commences in April against players who have been playing competitive football all along.
In conclusion we should note that if it was remotely possible the tournament would choose to be staged another time because it comes at a time when the major European leagues are in the final stretch not to mention the UEFA Champions League knockout stages. This could leave the tournament being shunned in terms of viewership even by the most patriotic of fans but you can bet your top dollar the avid pundits in the betting halls will be closely paying attention and they will tell you that a certain betting option will be more prominent with this type of tournament. But however there is a bigger picture especially for the players who have this tournament as a window of opportunity to impress the various scouts who will grace this tournament from the various major European leagues. It is also important to note that starting from the 2014 edition onwards; all of the matches at the tournament are recognized by FIFA as first team matches which in turn bolds well for the international ranking for the country at the end of the day. Lastly both parties will benefit that is the national football governing bodies as well as the players from the various prize monies that are available with the winner of the tournament set to pocket a staggering US$2.5 million in prize money if there is no change from the money given to the winners of the 2018 tournament.