Is Chan a measure of strength of local African leagues?

Morocco won the previous two Chan tournaments. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

Why focus on Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia? The four together with Libya form the United North African Association also known as the Northern Zone. According to the current Caf five-year rankings, the four national leagues are ranked the best in that order.

The Uganda Cranes and the Leopards from the Democratic Republic of Congo made a record sixth appearance at the Africa Nations Championship (Chan) in Algeria. Neither made it out of the group stage despite DR Congo arriving with a huge profile having won the tournament twice before.

The competition is exclusive for local players plying their trade in their respective national leagues.

The competition is largely regarded as a downgrade from the more prestigious African Cup of Nations which was launched by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) in January 2008.

That followed a decision by Caf's executive committee on September 11, 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"Chan was formed to give homegrown players opportunities to represent their nations and promote their home leagues globally," Issa Hayatou, the Caf president then, argued.

The design

The first edition was held in Ivory Coast at the start of 2009 with eight teams taking part.

DR Congo were the inaugural winners. Chan was then expanded to accommodate 16 teams in the second edition in Sudan 2011 and remained the same until last year in May when Caf increased it by two to have 18 in Algeria.

The tournament adopted a peculiar regional qualifying process that has teams compete for slots allocated to their respective regional associations.

Uganda is in the Central Eastern zone also known as Cecafa. There are six regions namely Cecafa, Northern (N. Africa), Western A and B in West Africa and the Central zones.

Each zone was allocated three slots in this year's competition. Uganda Cranes, Sudan and Ethiopia represented Cecafa in this edition, the seventh.

Under looked?

By its nature, Chan is designed to attract the crème de la crème of each country’s national league and therefore, easily passes as one of the yardsticks for measuring growth of the respective leagues and weighing them against the rest but that is subject to debate.

Egypt, the most successful nation on the continent with 10 Afcon titles and 21 Caf interclub championships, see no value in taking part in Chan.

The Pharaohs have never appeared at the tournament. They lost their only attempt in qualification to Morocco in the 2018 qualifiers.

However, Morocco were later named hosts and Caf handed their slot to Egypt but the Egyptian Football Association turned down the chance.

Their reason: "Our participation in this tournament will require a domestic league break and we can't afford that."

Egypt together with Tunisia withdrew from this year's edition. Tunisia debuted in Sudan 2011 and won the title.

They returned in Rwanda 2016 and reached the quarter finals stage but that's all for their participation.

This year's host Algeria finished fourth in 2011. They have not participated in any other tournament until this one which they qualify as host.

Both Algerian and Tunisia have similar reasons to Egypt's. At some point, their top clubs refused to release players citing busy domestic schedules.

Morocco debuted in South Africa 2014 and reached the last eight. They stopped at the groups but returned to win it in 2018 and 2020.

A mirror

Why focus on Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia? The four together with Libya form the United North African Association also known as the Northern Zone. According to the current Caf five-year rankings, the four national leagues are ranked the best in that order.

The region has been a force to reckon with on the continent besides finding a rough time against West Africa teams full of stars playing in Europe at the Afcon.

The fact that they have not been taking the tournament seriously, the North Africans have totally dominated Chan and it's not by accident.

Even an outlier in Libya has a title to their name. They won in 2014.

Talking club football, bar for Enyimba (Nigeria) in 2014, TP Mazembe (DR Congo) in 2010 and 2015 and Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016, the rest of the Caf Champions League titles have gone to the north.

The script is the same in the Caf Confederations Cup. Only Ghana's Hearts of Oak in 2004, AC Leopards (Congo) in 2012 and TP Mazembe in 2016 and 2017 have won it outside the northern zone.

"In my opinion, Chan is [a] pure reflection [of] how local leagues operate," Uganda Cranes head coach Milutin "Micho" Sredojevic shared with Score from his training base in Tunisia before kick-off.

"The last three winners have proven this. The 2016 winner DR Congo won Chan in Rwanda while their teams AS Vita and TP Mazembe were very successful in the Caf Interclub competitions.

“The 2018 and 2021 winner Morocco have been a true picture of Wydad [Casablanca], Raja [Casablanca] and RS Berkane success in Caf interclub competitions," Micho, who was in the fourth finals, said.

He has previously guided Uganda in 2014 and 2016 and Zambia in 2021. Therefore, it is also not by fault that DR Congo with the joint-most appearance is also joint-most successful.

Other factors

Despite the fact that Uganda has made it five times, the team has always returned dismal results finishing 15th in 2011, 12th in 2014, 2016 and 2018 and 14th in 2014.

The Uganda Premier League chief executive officer Bernard Bainamani slightly disagrees with Micho and believes there are many factors besides the strength of a league that, under normal circumstances, determines performance.

"I don’t think that the poor performance at Chan (Africa nations Champions) is an indicator that our league is of low quality," Bainamani told this paper in a previous interview.

"There are so many factors that are based on to select a team but we leave it at that."

For example; despite the Cranes experiencing goal drought at the competition, none of the leading scorers and top playmaker in the Uganda Premier League was in the initial list to Algeria.

Joint-leading scorer Nelson Senkatuka travelled but as an afterthought following a public outrage. The Cranes have scored only 13 in 18 games.

Uganda has previously managed to reach the group stage of the Caf interclub only twice. Vipers is the third after qualifying for this year's Champions League.

The Cranes have largely depended on their supremacy in the region to qualify.

Tanzania, whose league is rated among the top 12 on the continent because of Simba and Young Africa's performance in the last five or so years, did not make it to Algeria.

The Taifa Stars have managed only two appearances in 2009 and 2020. Rwanda ranked below Uganda in the Fifa rankings has been there four times with two quarterfinal appearances in 2016 and 2020.

Sudan had taken part in two finals – 2011 and 2016 – before this edition. They finished third on both occasions.

"Our own UPL has been a powerhouse in Cecafa producing players that have taken the nation to the Chan finals six (now seven) times. However, we have paid an expensive price for not excelling in Caf interclub competitions with the exception of KCCA a few years back and Vipers this year," Micho added.

"The rest of the leagues in the region have benefitted. Our neighbours Sudan have won bronze twice due to the experience of Al Hilal and El Merreikh in Caf interclub competitions."

Chan results – Final

2009: DR Congo 2–0 Ghana (Host, Ivory Coast)

2011: Tunisia 3–0 Angola (Host, Sudan)      

2014: Libya 0–0 (4–3 on penalties) Ghana (Host, South Africa)    

2016: DR Congo 3–0 Mali (Host, Rwanda)  

2018: Morocco 4–0 Nigeria (Host, Morocco)        

2020: Morocco2–0 Mali (Host, Cameroon)  

Top African Clubs – Rankings by Caf

1.Al Ahly (Egypt) 576 points

2. Espérance de Tunis (Tunisia) 493

3. ASEC Mimosas (Ivory Coast) 380

4. Zamalek (Egypt) 357

5. TP Mazembe (DR Congo) 355

6. Al Hilal (Sudan) 294

7. Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) 244

8. Asante Kotoko (Ghana) 241

9. Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) 232

10. Raja Casablanca (Morocco) 231


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