From today, eight African countries will begin their quest for the four available tickets to the U-20 World Cup in Poland at the U-20 continental championship in Niger. Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal have a strong case to win the tournament as defending champions Zambia failed to qualify for the finals.
Hosts Niger kick off the tournament against South Africa in the capital Niamey this afternoon. Maradi is the other host city for the two-week long tournament. Niger will hope to build on their participation at the 2017 U-17 World Cup in India when they registered their first-ever goal in a FIFA competition through Salim Abdourahmane for a 1-0 win over North Korea, enough to progress to the knockout stages.
However, Niger will not be expected to play a major role in the competition as more traditional heavyweights of the African youth game will battle for four tickets to the U-20 World Cup in Poland later this year. The four semi-finals will all seal their ticket for the global showdown.
Four years ago, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal represented the continent at the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Both Mali and Senegal reached the last four before falling to Serbia and Brazil respectively. The quartet has history on its side and they will be favorites in Niger to book their slots for Poland and represent the continent once more at the highest level.
Mali have never won the tournament, but were victorious two years ago at the U-17 Afcon. That generation also went on to play the last four of the U-17 World Cup. In qualifying the Malians laid down a marker with emphatic aggregate wins over both Tanzania and Cameroon. Ghana finished as runners-up to Mali at the U-17 level and the Black Satellites can’t be discounted after they missed out on the last edition of the tournament in Zambia.