Although the fourth CAF African Nations Championship officially drew to a close on the weekend, with Congo DR winning their second title courtesy of a 3-0 victory against Mali, it seems likely that international football fans will not have seen the last of some of the players that featured in the tournament.
The squads of all 16 teams at the finals consisted only of players who belong to clubs in their respective countries – such are the rules and no foreign-based players are allowed. This, of course, restricts the pool of players from which coaches can select their squad on the one hand, but on the other, it offers an ideal opportunity for such players to show off for both international scouts and, most importantly, for their full national team futures. And with 11 of teams competing at the CHAN finals still involved in CAF's 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualification campaign, it seems likely that some of those who featured in Rwanda will make a difference in their country's World Cup qualifiers.
New and familiar stars
In a Nigerian team that disappointed as they were knocked out in the group stage, Chisom Chikatara stood out. The Abia Warriors striker twice came on as a substitute and played one game over the full distance. He managed four goals, to finish joint-top scorer. No less of an African football legend than Roger Milla has predicted that much will be heard of the 21-year-old. “He is a fantastic striker. I have been impressed with his performances, and I believe he will be great star in the future," the Cameroon World Cup star told reporters.
Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh's predecessor Stephen Keshi was known to give talented Nigerian-based players the opportunity of playing in the senior side and if Oliseh follows suit, Chikatara should soon receive a call-up.
Zambia had one of the most experienced sides at the tournament and where unlucky to be eliminated by Guinea on penalties in the quarter-finals. Two of their stand-out players were goalkeeper Jacob Banda, who was unbeaten until the penalty shoot-out and veteran Christopher Katongo. The striker, who captained the Chipolopolo to their Africa Cup of Nations triumph in 2012, showed that a 33-year old can still compete at the highest level.
Katongo, who has returned to Zambia after spells in South Africa, Germany, Denmark, Greece and China PR, could well add to the 25 matches he has played in World Cup qualifying.
Congolese call on experience
Congo DR coach Florent Ibenge, who in 2014 stunned the continent when he took Vita Club to the final of the CAF Champions League, called up eight players from his former club into his CHAN side and they repaid that faith by winning the title.
Ibenge added three TP Mazembe players to the squad, two of whom – Joel Kimwaki and Jonathan Bolingi – represented their club at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan at the end of last year. Both should, unless something unforeseen occurs, feature in Ibenge's World Cup plans, while striker Meschack Elia will also be keeping his fingers crossed to get a call.
Like Nigeria, Uganda's Cranes were knocked out in the group phase, but not before teenagers Farouk Miya and Timothy Awany showed that they have the class that suggests they could go far. Striker Miya has already played in the World Cup qualifiers and was his side's hero as he scored three goals in a 4-0 aggregate victory against Togo, while Awany, who was used in a central midfield role despite being a defender, stood out with some strong tackles and ball distribution.
Yves Bissouma, who scored Mali's winner in their semi-final against Côte d'Ivoire, received special praise from his coach Djibril Drame. “I really like him. He is my best, but I rested him at first in the semi-final. At the break I told him I would only bring him on if he scored, and that is what he did.” The 19-year-old AS Real Bamako midfielder could well receive a chance to show his capabilities in Alain Giresse Les Aigles squad, which consists almost exclusively of foreign-based players.
Other players who are likely to get look-ins for their senior national teams are Nigerian goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Moroccan Abdessalam Benjelloun, as well as Tunisians Ahmed Akaichi and Rami Jeridi.
For CAF executive member and one of the legends of the African game, Kalusha Bwalya, it does not come as a surprise that several players that featured in CHAN are in line to move quickly up the ladder. “We can see the tournament has blossomed in the right direction as teams have come with their best players to the tournament. The level of competition is growing with each edition and many of the players will be promoted to the senior national teams.”