Former Cameroon star Rigobert Song this week took on one of the toughest tasks in African football when appointed national coach of Chad.
The country in the heart of central Africa are the seventh weakest of 54 national teams on the continent, according to the Fifa rankings. Chad have never qualified for the World Cup, the Olympic Games, the Africa Cup of Nations or the African Nations Championship for home-based footballers.
At club level, the story is similarly depressing with early annual exits from the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup the norm. But when Chad sought a successor to Frenchman Emmanuel Tregoat, whose contract was not renewed last month after a humiliating home defeat by Egypt, 39-year-old Song, pictured, heeded the call.
“It is not going to be an easy task qualifying for the 2017 Cup of Nations, but we are prepared to give our best,” Song told reporters after being put in charge of a national side ranked 175 out of 209 in the world.
Centre-back Song appeared more than 100 times for the “Indomitable Lions” during a career that began in 1993 and ended after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
After a 2-0 away defeat by Nigeria last June and 5-1 home hammering from Egypt last month, Chad lie bottom of a Cup of Nations group completed by Tanzania.
It is the toughest of the 13 mini-leagues created to find 15 qualifiers for the biennial African football showcase, which Gabon will host in 2017.
Not only must the Chadians contend with record seven-time African champions Egypt and three-time title-holders Nigeria, but Tanzania are on an upward curve after a change of coach.
Chad and Tanzania meet twice next March and, realistically, the countries will be battling to avoid propping up the standings. They are not strangers with both winning away against the other in a 2014 World Cup qualifier and Tanzania progressing on away goals.
The Egypt defeat was the heaviest suffered at home by the country at senior competitive level with many visiting teams struggling in the searing, dry heat of capital city N’Djamena.
South Africa fared best – winning a 2008 Cup of Nations qualifier 3-0 – before the Pharaohs wreaked havoc at the 30000-capacity Stade Idriss Mahamat Ouya national stadium.
While sauna-like conditions help make Chad competitive at home, they have never won an away Cup of Nations qualifier. Instead, there have been some heavy losses with six goals conceded in Malawi, five in Egypt and Tunisia and four in Algeria and South Africa.
World Cup results have been less embarrassing, although the central Africans have never come remotely close to qualifying for the quadrennial global football spectacular. Recovering impressively from the mauling by Egypt, Chad shocked Sierra Leone in a two-leg first-round qualifier for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Ironically, the prize for succeeding is a home-and-away tie during November against recent tormentors Egypt.
A goal from local-based winger Leger Djimrangar gave Sao a 1-0 win over the Leone Stars in N’Djamena and his goal in a |2-1 away defeat proved crucial, squeezing Chad through on the away-goal rule. It did help the Chadians that the return match was staged in southern Nigerian city Port Harcourt because the ongoing threat of the Ebola virus prevents Sierra Leone hosting national teams.
Few pundits had given Chad a chance against opponents who held defending champions Ivory Coast to a 0-0 draw recently in a Afcon qualifier at the same Nigerian venue. Former national coach Modou Kouta took temporary charge for the World Cup qualifier and will assist Song as the tall Cameroonian attempts to be equally successful on the touchline as he was on the pitch.
Another glimmer of light for the Chadians was a brave exit from CHAN last weekend with a 2-0 home loss to Gabon followed by a 1-0 second-leg victory in Libreville.
Leading club Foullah Edifice exited the CAF Champions League in the preliminary round this year, but the club they ran close, USM Alger, have gone all the way to the final. Beaten 3-0 in Algeria, Foullah fell further behind by conceding an early goal in N’Djamena, then scored three unanswered goals for a |3-1 second-leg win. Elect Sport fared much worse in the |second-tier CAF Confederation Cup, losing 6-1 away and 1-0 at home to Al Ittihad of Libya.