CHAN Group Pairings:
Group A, (Casablanca): Morocco, Guinea, Sudan, Mauritania
Group B, (Marrakech): Ivory Coast, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia
Group C, (Tangier): Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea
Group D, (Agadir): Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Burkina Faso
On Monday afternoon, Rwanda national football team (Amavubi) headed to Tunisia for a ten-day residential camp for intensive preparations ahead of the upcoming 2018 African Nations Championships (CHAN) finals set for January 13 through February 4 in Morocco.
Amavubi, who started rigorous training on Wednesday, have lined-up three warm-up matches, the first one taking place Saturday against Sudan. The national team will then face Namibia on Sunday before winding up preparations with a clash against Algeria on Wednesday in Sousse, Tunisia.
Making a third appearance in the biennial continental tournament, Antoine Hey’s Amavubi have been drawn in Group C alongside African giants Nigeria, the 2014 champions Libya and Equatorial Guinea.
Guinea and Namibia are the only two nations making their debut appearance at this year’s 5th edition—Rwanda will open up her count facing the 2014 bronze medalists Nigeria on January 15 at Stade Ibn Batouta in Tangier.
Hosts Morocco, Guinea, Sudan and Mauritania are in Group A and will host their matches at Mohamed V Stadium in Casablanca. The tournament’s opening match will pit the Atlas Lions of Morocco against Mauritania on January 13.
Cote d’Ivoire, who hosted the inaugural edition in 2009, are in Group B along with Zambia, Uganda and Namibia, they will play their matches at Stade de Marrakech in Marrakech.
Group D, based at Stade Adrar in Agadir, is comprised of Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso and the 2011 runners-ups, Angola.
Morocco was awarded the rights to host the competition last October after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) stripped initial hosts Kenya of the host rights over security concerns and organizational delays.
Hey’s team will open their Group C campaign against Nigeria on Jan. 15 and then face Equatorial Guinea on Jan. 19 before concluding the group stage against Libya on Jan. 23. The top two teams in Group C will proceed to the last eight.
As the finals tournament draws closer, Saturday Sport reporter Richard Bishumba looks into how Rwanda is likely to fare against Group C opponents.
Leaving all the factors constant and the unpredictability of football, Nigeria are the overwhelming favourites to top Group C. The Super Eagles are ranked 8th in Africa and 51st globally in the latest FIFA rankings released last month.
In the same end-of-year FIFA rankings, Rwanda was ranked 30th on the continent and 113th worldwide, one of the better positions they had last year in the monthly rankings.
Nigeria qualified for CHAN 2018 from West B Zone after seeing off Benin 2-2 on aggregate. They started intensive preparations (residential training camp) in early December, in Kano State.
Contrary, Rwanda was the last of the 16 teams to qualify for the finals, after edging Ethiopia 3-2 on aggregate in a hastily arranged Play-off qualification tie that was necessitated by Egypt’s decision to forfeit her slot at the championship.
Both Nigeria and Rwanda will be making their third appearance in CHAN finals, but the former holds a better track record, having reached semi-finals and winning the bronze medal play-off match at the 3rd edition in 2014, in South Africa.
Libya is another group opponent Rwanda will have to be wary of when the two nations meet on January 23.
Rwanda and Libya were in the same group at the 2017 CECAFA Senior Challenge in Kenya, and both sides played out a 1-all draw.
Both countries were also eliminated in group stages at the expense of hosts Kenya and Zanzibar, who went on to meet in the final. Kenya emerged champions after beating the islanders 3-2 on penalty shoot-outs following a 2-all thriller after extra-time.
The only former champions at the 5th edition finals, Libya are currently ranked 88th globally and 18th in Africa, far higher than Rwanda. Libya qualified for the finals tournament from the North Zone after knocking out Algeria 3-2 on aggregate.
Going into the three-week long championship, all odds are against the West African country that will be making its debut. Namibia, in Group B, are the only other debutants at this year’s championship.
Equatorial Guinea, seen as the underdogs in the group, booked the ticket to finals following the withdrawal of Gabon last August. Guinea are currently in the 43rd spot in Africa and 146th position globally.
Rwanda took part in the 2011 edition held in Sudan, managing a group stage finish before hosting the 2016 edition where they reached the quarter final round, losing to eventual winners DR Congo, 2-1 in extra-time.
However, DR Congo will not be able to defend their title as they lost the qualification bid to Congo Brazzaville.