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  • Sixth edition of the CAF African Nations Championship starts this weekend
  • Tournament reserved for African players competing in continent’s national leagues
  • For some teams, also serves as dress rehearsal before Qatar 2022 qualifiers resume

‘Out of sight, out of mind’ goes the old adage. And for African football fans, opportunities to see many of their top internationals can be rare, with a lot playing outside the continent. This could explain the enthusiasm with which fans greet each edition of the CAF African Nations Championship. This competition is reserved exclusively for players from the Mother Continent who are active in its national championships, thereby enabling fans to see players they watch week-in week-out in the domestic leagues proudly donning their national team colours.

The 2020 edition, moved to 2021 because of Covid-19 and being hosted by Cameroon, will be especially important for those called up, presenting as it does the chance for them to stake a claim for a squad place ahead of the second round of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, in which all 16 teams are still involved. FIFA.com takes a closer look at some of the contenders on the eve of the continental showdown.

 

The context

This sixth edition was originally set to take place in Ethiopia, before being switched to Cameroon and rescheduled for April 2020. After then being postponed due to the pandemic, the competition finally gets underway this week in Cameroon, which will also host the CAF Africa Cup of Nations next year. The opening game will see the host nation take on Zimbabwe on 16 January at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde, where the final will also take place on 7 February.

Spain v Morocco:  Ayoub El Kaabi is congratulated by fans 

Did you know?

Hosts under pressure: As they prepare for their fourth appearance at the event and the first major men’s tournament to be staged in Cameroon since the 1972 Africa Cup of Nations, the Indomitable Lions will be anxious to improve on their quarter-final exits of 2011 and 2016, and most certainly atone for finishing bottom of their group in 2018. However, the hosts failed to impress in their preparation games (two defeats and a draw), despite a forward line featuring two strikers with European experience in the shape of Jacques Zoua and Yannick Ndjeng.

A Moroccan stroll: The Atlas Lions were comfortable winners on home soil at the last edition in 2018, thanks in no small part to an unstoppable Ayoub El Kaabi. The forward picked up the top scorer and best player awards and forced his way into Herve Renard's squad for Russia 2018. Three years on, he continues to hone his craft in his national league, currently playing for Wydad Casablanca after a short loan spell in China PR, and represents his side’s best chance of retaining the title. Former international Mustapha Hadji, assistant to senior team coach Vahid Halilhodzic, has been tasked with closely monitoring the performances of five players in Cameroon: Abdelkrim Baaddi, Yahya Jabrane, Hicham El Mejhad, Soufiane Rahimi and Abdelilah Hafidi.

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