Nigeria will once again be the favourites ahead of Orange CAF U-20 African Championship. They were crowned champions of two years ago when they beat Cameroon 3-2 in the final.
Their senior team , The Super Eagles recently lifted the 2013 Orange AFCON trophy for the first time in 19 years.
It will be hard to imagine that the Flying Eagles will not be motivated by what their seniors did when the tournament begins on 16thMarch in Algeria. Stephen Keshi’s gamble which won Nigeria the title will be foremost in their minds as they defend their title.
Psychologically, they have won the battle, but as with the previous 11 editions, it has never been easy to predict who would actually win the competition. Even though there may be a few experienced players coming into the tournament (the U17 players), many of them are still wet behind the ears and have only played 4 international matches from the knock-out stages. Moreover, it has been months since the last time they played together as a team.
Three former champions will be present in Algeria this year: Nigeria, Egypt and other favourites Ghana; the only team to have won the title three times. Since the inception of this tournament, Ghana and Nigeria have been the heroes of youth football in African, even if there have times when their football has not been up to scratch; as was the case for Ghana in 2009 in South Africa where they only managed to place 6th in the continental tournament.
They did, however, redeem themselves even though they were denied title of world champions in Egypt in 2009. Nigeria, who may have been absent in 2003, redeemed themselves by winning the title twice thereafter and finishing third and fourth. What do the 2013 predictions say for Ghana and Nigeria? We will only know once the winner has been determined.
Of the 11 editions, Egypt has made it to the finals 9 times. They lifted the trophy twice and have made it to the semi finals 4 times. In terms of frequency, they certainly are the champions, but run the risk of breaking their good routine given the way football in Egypt has been going these past few months.
Mali is the 4th team amongst the giants; they made it to the previous final, but were denied by Egypt. They are no strangers to the tournament with 8 appearances during the past 20 years and have made it to the semi-finals 3 times. This record certainly will be a confidence-booster for the youth side.
The four remaining teams are still beginners in the tournament. Yet, unbelievable as it may seem, since the beginning of this version with the current format of U-20 finals in 1991, Algeria has never made it to the final. DR Congo is making a debut at the finals as the Algerians the hosts. DR Congo made it to this year’s tournament after defeating Cameroon who were present at the 2009 and 2011 finals.
Benin made it to the final in 2003, but this was the year in which they hosted the tournament. They exited from this tournament in 3rd position which saw them qualify for the World Cup U-20. Benin was highly impressive during the knock-out stages beating both Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal. It would be naïve to underestimate this team.
Similarly, Gabon has only ever made it to one final which was back in 2005 in Burkina Faso where they knocked out both Tunisia and Burkina Faso. Ever since their U-23 side won the inaugural CAF championship of that age group in December 2011 and qualified for the London Olympics, Gabon football has taken a turn for the better which was confirmed by a place in the 2012 AFCON quarter finals. This is a team which certainly has a few aces up their sleeves.
As is the case with football, we can never predict the final outcome let alone who will be in the semi-finals. A place in the semi-finals will mean automatic qualification for the FIFA World Cup which will take place from 21 June to 13 July in Turkey.
Group A will be made up of Algeria, Benin. Egypt and Ghana whilst group B will be made up of Gabon, Mali, Nigeria, and Congo.