From Abuja to Abidjan; From Cairo to Cape Town; From Niamey to Nairobi, the finest of young African footballers have converged on the Niger Republic for the 15th edition of the U-20 African Cup of Nations. Eight nations are slugging it out for the trophy and for a place in the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which will take place in Poland later in the year. The four teams that will qualify for the semi-finals will automatically qualify for the U-20 Mundial.
The eight teams are placed in two groups. In group A, host nation the Niger Republic will lock horns with South Africa, Nigeria, and Burundi. Group B will see Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana fight to finish. In the opening matches played on Saturday, host, Niger Republic and South Africa settled for a 1-1 draw, while the Flying Eagles (as the Nigerian team is fondly called) defeated the hard fighting Burundians 2-0.
This tournament has passed through a lot of transformations since its inaugural edition in 1977. It was originally known as the ‘Africa U-21 Qualifier for World Cup’. In 1979 it was changed to Africa U-21 Cup of Nations. After six editions it was rechristened to ‘African U-21 Championship’. In 2003 it was changed again to ‘African U-20 Championship’. Before the previous edition that took place in Zambia, its name was changed once again to ‘Africa U-20 Cup of Nations’, which is shortened to U-20 AFCON.
Nigeria is the most successful side in this championship with seven titles, which they won in 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 2005, 2011 and 2015. Egypt is second with four titles—won in 1981, 1991, 2003 and 2013. Ghana is third with three titles—1993, 1999 and 2003. Cameroon, Zambia, Algeria, Morocco, Angola have won a title each.
This competition has produced many young stars that progressed to superstars in world football. Here are very few of them; Benni McCarthy of South Africa, Mouhcine Iajour of Morocco, John Obi Mikel of Nigeria, and Ransford Osei of Ghana. As the soccer-war rages on in the Niger Republic, it is the expectations of soccer fans in Africa and the world in general that a new generation of stars will be born.
May the best side win
Written by Delight Caesar
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