VAR debuts as local African talent goes on show

Video Assistant Referee equipment (Getty Images)
Video Assistant Referee equipment (Getty Images)

Rabat - Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology will debut in Africa midway through the Nations Championship (CHAN), which kicks off Saturday with hosts Morocco among the title favourites.

The system allows off-field match officials to assist referees in "game-changing" situations such as goals, penalty kicks, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity.

It has been trialled in the Italian Serie A and German Bundesliga this season and debuted in England this week.

VAR is scheduled to be used in Morocco from the quarter-finals of a unique national team competition as participation is restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth.

The overwhelming majority of African stars play professionally in Europe, leaving the Nations Championship as a platform for emerging talent to impress scouts.

First staged in the Ivory Coast nine years ago, the CHAN quickly doubled in size from eight nations to 16, and the last edition in Rwanda was superbly organised and well attended.

Fellow east African country Kenya were due to succeed Rwanda as hosts, but surrendered the right to Morocco after falling behind with stadia preparations.

Morocco were keen to stage the 23-day showcase of African domestic football talent as it brings them in from the cold after being stripped of the 2015 Cup of Nations hosting rights.

The north African kingdom wanted the elite African national team competition postponed because they feared visiting supporters might be infected with the deadly Ebola virus.

Confederation of African Football (CAF) officials rejected the request, citing contractual obligations, and banned Morocco from the next two Cup of Nations qualifying competitions.

The suspension was later lifted and relations between CAF and Morocco have warmed since Ahmad Ahmad of Malagasy last year replaced long-serving Cameroonian Issa Hayatou as CAF boss.

Commercial capital Casablanca plays host to the opening match between Morocco and Mauritania, a northwest Africa derby that should deliver a home victory.

Morocco have included six of the Wydad Casablanca team that won the 2017 CAF Champions League, including star striker Achraf Bencharki.

The other Casablanca giants, Raja, also supply six of the 23-man squad and there are three stars from 2017 CAF Confederation Cup semi-finalists FUS Rabat.

Guinea, fourth behind the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and the Ivory Coast in Rwanda two years ago, and Sudan complete Group A.

Ivory Coast, Zambia, Uganda and Namibia make up Group B and shock 2014 champions Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda and debutants Equatorial Guinea comprise Group C.

David Pierre Eto'o, a younger brother of Cameroon legend Samuel, is part of the Cameroon squad that tackles Angola, Congo Brazzaville and Burkina Faso in Group D.

Group winners and runners-up advance to the quarter-finals and the eventual champions pocket $1.25 million (about 1.050 million euro).

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