The 2009 African Youth Championship gets underway tomorrow, Sunday January 18 at Amahoro national stadium and as the stars of tomorrow descend on to Kigali in search of glory, it’s time to take a look at the runners and riders.
Eight teams drawn in two groups of four each shall be taking part in the competition, being staged on Rwandan soil for the first time. There are consistently going to be the ones that would be referred to as favorites.
Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast are all former champions of the competition which was created in 1979.
The Confederation of African Football, Caf created the African Youth Championship competition to enhance quality football on the continent.
Rwanda, Mali, Ghana, Cameroon
Host nation Rwanda will fancy their chances of surviving in this group and qualifying to the last four.
Not only are they playing at home but with players such as APR’s Haruna Niyonzima, the captain, Jean Baptist Mugiraneza, Elias Uzamukunda as well as Atraco goalkeeper Jean Luc Ndayishimiye, all full Rwandan internationals in their ranks, they should have a go at finishing in the top.
It’s a tight group with both Rwanda and Mali looking to be the whipping boys of the group while Ghana and Cameroon fighting it out to see who tops the group.
A tough group to call but one in which past winners Ghana and Cameroon will both fancy their chances. However, Rwanda seem to have added something to their game during their three week training camp in North Africa and may provide a stiffer test than expected.
It would also be foolish to write off Mali and this group could provide the tournament with a couple of early shocks.
Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Ivory Coast
Quite possibly the dreaded ‘Group of Death’ with Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt all strong sides battling it out for the two qualifying spots. South Africa may be the rank outsiders but you can only count them out at your peril.
European scouts, expected in numbers will be taking a close interest in this group to spot the stars of the future. It’s a great but open group with all teams having plenty to play for.
Five time winners, Nigeria and three time champions, Egypt on paper look the stronger sides but Ivory Coast and South Africa will both be looking for a strong showing here. In short, anything could happen.
Ones to watch
Undoubtedly, record winners, Nigeria will take some stopping, especially with a full strength squad. Yet there are plenty of other teams looking to become 2009 champions. Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast too will take some stopping as they possess talented squads.
Hosts, Rwanda can go as far as they could only if the players manage to live with the huge amount of expectation from the over nine million Rwandans and also stick to the training ground basics as instructed by their coaching staff.
In short after Congo Brazzaville’s stunning victory in 2007 over Nigeria, there will be no shortage of contenders for the crown this time round.
Chance for youngsters
During the competition, budding stars are identified after which they are either sent to professional clubs in Europe on contract or incorporated within the national teams of their respective countries.
So far, 15 editions of the tournament have already been organised. Only seven countries have won the trophy at least once. Nigeria tops the chart of winners after grabbing the trophy five times.
Egypt is second with three trophies won.
Ghana comes next after obtaining the trophy twice. Algeria, Cameroon, Angola and Congo have each lifted the trophy once.
The African Youth Champion also serves as qualifies for the World Youth Championship, whose next edition will be staged in Egypt later in the year.
Rwanda opens the competition against Mali at Amahoro stadium tomorrow before Ghana take on arch rivals Cameroon.
The Caf U-20 African Championship is held every two years with the top 4 teams qualifying for the Fifa World Youth Championship.