As more African players continue to find homes at top European clubs, it is becoming increasingly difficult for domestic-based players to break into their national teams. The CAF-organised African Nations Championship (CHAN) is put on to showcase players who are active in their local national championship, and that afforded a big opportunity for Ghanaians and Nigerians to play themselves into contention for a ticket to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. FIFA.com looks at some of the players on display at the African finals, which took place in 2010 FIFA World Cup host-country South Africa.
Budding West African stars
Ghanaian coaches have, by and large, fielded tested European professionals at the biggest events, and James Kwesi Appiah, who helped the Black Stars qualify for their third consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals, seems unlikely to change that.
However, two players who stood out at the CHAN finals, thereby making a claim for a World Cup spot are goalkeeper Steven Adams and midfielder Yahaya Mohamed. Adams, who plays for Aduana Stars, has already featured in Appiah's squad in the qualifiers and he would not have done his chances of being called up into the World Cup squad any harm after winning two man of the match awards at the CHAN, where his side lost a penalty shoot-out 4-3 against Libya in the final.
Asante Kotoko's Mohamed has been on the fringes of the Black Stars for a while now and was already in Ghana's squad at the 2011 CHAN finals. An attacking midfielder, the 25-year-old looks particularly dangerous when within shooting range, and he scored his side's goal in a 1-1 draw against Libya in a group stage.
Unlike Appiah, Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi has been known for giving Nigeria-based players an opportunity to play for the Super Eagles. Last year, he took the full national team to their third triumph in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, with several local players featuring prominently in the campaign. He followed a similar pattern at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, where eight of the 23-man squad were under contract with Nigerian clubs.
They are ready to go
Keshi told FIFA.com that he had no hesitation in calling up Nigerian-based players for his squads. “I have worked with them. They know what I want, I know the standard I want them to be at before they can play. I have studied the players and managed to instil confidence in them. Once achieving those goals, they are ready to go, just like the professional players in Europe," he explained.
Some of the players whom Keshi selected for the CHAN finals, where Nigeria finished third, played a significant role in helping the team reach Brazil and will be in contention for a place in Keshi's World Cup squad. Although Enugu Rangers' goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim, who captained the CHAN squad, has been unable to get past Vincent Enyeama, he has been a virtual ever-present on the substitutes bench for the Super Eagles, featuring in both the AFCON and Confederations Cup squads and being selected for all but one of the World Cup qualifiers.
Like Agbim, another player who is in the mix to make the trip to Brazil is Azubuike Egwuekwe, who was one of only a handful of players to feature in every squad during World Cup qualifying, playing in four matches. The Warri Wolves defender played in all six matches in South Africa. Heartland defender Francis Benjamin's CHAN campaign meanwhile, was interrupted with an injury that saw his game time restricted to the first and last match. But Keshi has generally shown confidence in the 21-year-old, calling him up for several World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup squad and he could well find himself on a flight to Brazil in summer.
Another Nigerian-based defender whom Keshi has called up for higher duty, is Solomon Kwambe, who plays his club football for Sunshine Stars. He too, had a disrupted CHAN campaign, brought on in his case by a red card in Nigeria's final group game against the hosts, which the west Africans won 3-1. Although he has not featured regularly in the World Cup qualifiers, winger Ejike Uzoenyi, could get a chance to make the squad after impressing at the CHAN, winning the player of the tournament award.
Keshi said that he had been impressed with the standard of play of his squad at the CHAN finals. “It was good to spend five weeks together. These players are doing well and that is the bottom line. They will have a chance to be called up for the World Cup, though it is too early to name any names. That will happen closer to the time," he said. "Nigerians expect a lot from the team at the World Cup, so we will have to work very hard and make sure we can make them and ourselves proud.”