BY KORIR JUMA,NAIROBI,21ST APRIL 2017-The journey to the 5th edition of the African Nations Championship CHAN Kenya 2018 kicks off this weekend with the first leg matches of the first round of the qualifiers.
The first part of the qualifying phase involves six of the 49 teams engaged in the battle for the 15 tickets to join host Kenya for the final tournament of the fifth edition of the championship designed exclusively for footballers playing in their domestic leagues.
The six teams are drawn from the Central-East and Southern Zones, with the latter having four teams, of which two will progress to the next round.
The only match in the Central-East Zone is between Somalia and South Sudan,which will take place at the Gouled Stadium in Djibouti, due to Somalia’s inability to host matches in their territory.
The Gouled Stadium is a familiar terrain for the South Sudanese, who suffered a 2-0 loss to Djibouti in a preliminary qualifier of the Africa Cup of Nations Cameroon 2019 last month. But the Bright Stars responded in grand style in the return leg at home with a 6-0 win to go through, a performance which should serve a source worry for the Ocean Stars.
This is the maiden participation of South Sudan in the qualifying phase following their admittance into international football in 2012 but Coach Bilal Felix and his charges are looking forward to scaling the initial hurdle.
Felix has included Kator FC striker James Moga, who scored a brace in the 6-0drubbing of Djibouti in his 18-man squad for the trip to Djibouti. Also in the squad is veteran defender Thomas Atir, formerly on the books of Sudanese giants, El Hilal.
Mauritius will face Seychelles in the other Southern Zone clash in Belle Vue.
The return leg matches will take place next weekend, with the winners advancing to the next round in their respective zones.
The final tournament is scheduled for 12 January to 4 February 2018 in Kenya.