The 8th edition of the African Under 17 championships will be held without the two countries, Nigeria and Ghana, who had dominated the event since its inception. It signifies a big change in youth football across the continent. There are however two former champions who will be participating in the Algerian Championship. They are Cameroon (winners in 2003) and Gambia (2005 Champions). Burkina Faso two-time finalists (1999, 2001) shall also be participating. The other participants have never been ranked in the first three of previous competitions except Guinea who emerged third during the 1995 edition.
Absence of the Kings
Triple World Champions in (1985, 1993, 2007), finalists twice and reigning African Champions Nigeria will be absent from this years Championships after being eliminated by neighbours Benin. Having won the first leg two zero at home, the Nigerians were soundly beaten three nil in the return match in Cotonou barring them from participation.
As organizers of this years World Championship, Nigeria would not be loosing everything. That is not the case with their regional rivals Ghana and former champions of the competition who were eliminated by Gambia. Also, Ghana boasts of a good record both continentally and worldwide with two world records (1991 and 1995). The Ghanaians were also twice finalists and bronze medalist as well as two time African Champions. African youth football is constantly evolving as those who used to be in the front line are gradually being replaced by other more determined countries.
A difficult forecast
Cameroon 2003 winners and Gambia title holders in 2005 are among the eight teams taking part in this years competition. Cameroon, a semi finalists in 1999, has always been a team to watch when they participate in any continental competition judging from their record. But the nation has often proved to be more comfortable in senior competitions leaving some doubts in the minds of many. This seems not to be the same for 2005 African champions, Gambia, who went on to create sensation on the world stage beating Brazil (3-1), as well as Qatar on the same score only to be eliminated by Holland on goal difference. Two years later the junior team mostly comprised of players from the Cadet ranks went pass the first round of the World Championships. Many would be hoping to watch the new generation of Gambians. Therefore, Cameroon and Gambia seem to be possible challengers for the crown. The two will not only be vying for the trophy but will hope to make an impact in the competition. Burkina Faso which eliminated Tunisia (0-0, 3-1) and Rwanda (2-1, 1-1) can spring a surprise. Finalists in 1999 and 2001 the country will be participating in its third tournament.
Having participated in the 1997, 1999 and 2005 editions, Zimbabwe in 1997 finished last in their group and in two other championships finished last overall in points.
To book a place for the Algerian rendez vous, Zimbabwe eliminated Reunion (2-0, 0-1), beating Angola (3-2) and (1-0) in Luanda and Harare respectively. It should be recalled that Zimbabwe just took part in the CHAN championships in Ivory Coast. The team can be one of those to watch in the championship.
Guinea will also be present in Algeria for the fourth time in the African under 17 Championships after 1995 (3 rd placed), 1999 and 2005. Guinea qualified following two post match penalties against Guinea Bissau and Benin, and this can also be part of an important plan for the team in the competition.
The three hopefuls
Uncertainty continues to reign within the ranks of three participating teams of the Cadet competition. Malawi is one of these countries. The country which has never participated in the competition eliminated South Africa (1-0, 2-1) before moving on to oust Namibia (1-2, 7-1).
Just like Namibia, Niger is also one of those nations appearing for the first time in the Under 17 Championships. The young players from Niger bade farewell to Somalia, eliminated Mali (0-1, 2-0) before beating Ivory Coast (1-2, 1-0) thanks to the away goal rule during the last round eliminatory. Without doubt Niger is a surprise package in the competition and it should be a warning to its adversaries as they may not be push overs.
Algeria is host of this year’s competition and will also be in its first participation but will go as favourites due to home advantage. Since the inception of the Junior Championships in 1991 and the Cadet championships in 1995 the team had never had a taste of youth football. The countries absence has been a worry for the past twenty years which explains why the country has lost its place in the top brass of African football.
Much is needed from the country which is expected to return to the front role it played in African football during the 1980s.. Algeria was not handed an easy berth in the draws as the team will face a resilient Cameroon, a resistant Guinea and determined Gambia during the group stage. The other group will see Burkina Faso face Malawi, Niger and Zimbabwe.