Four African nations target glory at Under-17 World Cup
Africa’s four teams will be hoping to reach the 11 July final, which will be played at the legendary Azteca Stadium, seen here staging the 1986 World Cup final (Photo: Burkina Faso go to the Under-17 World Cup as African champions )
African champions Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Congo and Ivory Coast are hoping to follow in the footsteps of previous winners Nigeria and Ghana by triumphing at the Under-17 World Cup.
The four nations are Africa’s representatives at the 14th edition of the tournament that kicks off in Mexico on Saturday 18 June.
The Under-17 World Cup has launched the careers of global stars like Cesc Fabegras of Spain, Argentina’s Carlos Tevez and Brazil’s Ronaldinho, while African stars to shine include Cameroon’s Alex Song, Michael Essien of Ghana and Nigeria’s Jon Mikel Obi.
The BBC’s Durosimi Thomas takes a look at Africa’s chances in Mexico and the continent’s potential stars of the future.
CONGO’S GROUP A GAMES
- 18 June: Holland
- 21 June: Mexico
- 24 June: North Korea
Congo Brazzaville, who qualified after finishing third at the African championships in Rwanda this year, will be appearing at their third U17 World Cup.
In China in 1985, they lost all three of their matches but in Italy six years later, the Baby Red Devils missed out on a quarter-final place on goal difference alone – pipped to the last eight by Qatar.
This time around, expectations are genuinely high with almost the entire squad hailing from the first professionally-run football academy in Congo – the Centre National de Formation de Football.
Congo coach Eddie Hudanski has been part of the academy since its formation in 2005, meaning he knows his players very well.
The academy has already yielded results, with Hudanski leading the Under-20 side to the 2007 World Cup in Canada after they had won the African event on home soil earlier that year.
“If you are in the same group as the European champions and the hosts, who are former world champions, it’s certainly going to be difficult for us,” says Hudanski.
“And North Korea should not be dismissed as underdogs either as their strength is the fact that they are unknown.”
The Baby Red Devils will be looking for goals from their attacking duo of Mavis Tchibota and Stevy Epako, who was one of the joint-top scorers in Rwanda.
RWANDA’S GROUP C GAMES
- 19 June: England
- 22 June: Uruguay
- 25 June: Canada
Rwanda seemed to have earned themselves the dream match for most African teams since they will facing England – in their very first game.
Even at this level, the influence of English domestic football alone will be enough to bring the whole of Rwanda to a standstill.
Mexico 2011 is certainly a big occasion for the country – as it will be Rwanda’s first appearance at a Fifa World Cup finals.
The Junior Wasps booked their place in Mexico when finishing runners-up to Burkina Faso at the African Under-17 Championship on home soil in January.
Rwanda’s preparations under French coach Richard Tardy have been intensive, incorporating training tours of England, France, Germany and the United States.
The trips gave Tardy the opportunity of inviting Rwandan youngsters enrolled with European sides to fight for a place in his World Cup squad.
He has strengthened his squad with the inclusion of Arsenal youth team striker Alfred Mugabo, France-based Bonfils Kabanda of Nancy and defender Jean Marie Rusingizandekwe of Belgian side Malines.
There are also places for Andrew Buteera and Mwesigye Tibingana, who are both based in neighbouring Uganda with the Proline Academy.
BURKINA FASO’S GROUP E GAMES
- 20 June: Panama
- 23 June: Germany
- 26 June: Ecuador
Forget about the expectations back home – just arriving in Mexico as the African champions will be enough pressure for the young Stallions.
The team will also be under the watchful eyes of Blaise Campaore, the Head of State whose interest in football has seen Burkina Faso rise up from hosting the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations to finally winning a continental trophy in Rwanda earlier this year.
If three previous trips to the Under-17 World Cup are anything to go by, which include finishing third at Trinidad and Tobago 2001, then it would be premature to rule out the Burkinabe’s chances – especiallty since they arrive in Mexico as Africa’s best.
Coach Rui Vieiria was appointed in April last year and has worked together with the squad to lift the African Cup in Kigali.
He has also taken the team to his native Portugal, were they were based for a training camp before leaving for Mexico.
With Germany, Panama and Ecuador in the same group, Burkina Faso – for whom goalkeeper Seni Ouedraogo and defender Sounkalo Sanou are tipped to shine – will fancy their chances of making the next round.
IVORY COAST’S GROUP F GAMES
- 20 June: Australia
- 23 June: Denmark
- 26 June: Brazil
Given the country’s recent political upheavals, some might be persuaded to rule out the Baby Elephants’ chances. But this would be a big mistake because on paper, most pundits would fancy Ivory Coast to do better than all the African sides.
This is largely due to the quality of the structures from which the squad is being drawn – namely, an acclaimed academy in Qatar as well as training centres back home.
The squad is managed by legendary goalkeeper Alain Gouamene, who was a hero during his playing days and played a pivotal role in winning the country’s only senior African title in 1992.
The squad’s failure to win January’s Under-17 African championship was a disappointment back home, especially with the senior national team and the likes of Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure making the most of headlines in recent years.
Distraction from events back home has been put aside by sports minister Dagobert Banzio, who has assured the team of the government’s support.
“You are the first to represent the country under President (Alassane) Ouattara,” Banzio said. “You are our ambassadors and I am confident you will give your best.”
A new generation of future senior Elephants look set to make their mark in Mexico, with some great talents who exhibited a fluid style of play already seen in Rwanda.
Aspire Qatar Academy defender Jean Thome is widely regarded as the team’s backbone but there will also be focus on strikers Guy Stephane Bedi and Drissa Diarrassouba, who shared six goals at the African finals.
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