Ghana head into Algeria as the Sandals For Goalposts team to watch. The Black Satellites boast a respectable record at the youth level. In 2009, under current coach Sellas Tetteh, Andre Ayew, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Mohamed Rabiu and co. won the championship in Rwanda. Inspired performances from Dominic Adiyiah then lifted the Black Satellites to a world championship in Egypt-the first African team to win the competition.
Ghana have been particularly impressive in their pre-tournament friendlies. They drew with FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou and then powered past a weakened Novara side. One can watch their performance here.
Coach Tetteh surprised a few with a few of his omissions. One of the squad’s well-known players, Frank Acheampong, of Anderlecht, was left out by Tetteh. In fact, coach Tetteh left most of his foreign-based players out of the squad, taking only two: Frank Sarfo-Gyamfi, a tough midfielder plying his trade in South Africa, and Baba Mensah who graces the pitches of Israel.
Coach Sellas Tetteh has a big reputation in the Gold Coast. He coordinated Ghana’s spectacular run back in 2009 and an aura still reigns around his person. Joachim Adukor (who was eventually left out) had this to say about the boss:
‘He gives us immense motivation. We’re happy he’s back coaching the U20 and we’re all hoping to give our best and win trophies with Ghana with coaches like him’
Goalkeepers: Eric Ofori Antwi (Amidaus Professionals), Felix Annan (Asante Kotoko), Michael Sai (Berekum Chelsea)
Defenders: Richmond Nketiah (Medeama FC), Jeremiah Arkorful (Tema Youth), Lawrence Lartey (Ash Gold), Ahmed Adams (Berekum Chelsea), Ofori Ebenezer (New Edubiase United), Baba Mensah (Neve Yosef, Israel)
Midfielders: Seidu Salifu (Wa All Stars), Derrick Mensah (Tema Youth), Michael Anaba (Asante Kotoko), Clifford Aboagye (Udinese, Italy), Emmanuel Gyamfi (Wa All Stars), Moses Odjer (Tema Youth), Frank Sarfo-Gyamfi (Maritzburg United, South Africa), Kwame Boahene (Liberty Professionals), Jacob Asiedu-Apau (Medeama)
Strikers: Kennedy Ashia (Liberty Professionals), Ebenezer Assifuah (Liberty Professionals), Francis Narh (Tema Youth)
The defending champions come to Algeria on a national high. Their senior counterparts won a 3rd third continental title just a few months ago and the junior Flying Eagles will look to emulate their feats. Like Ghana, Nigeria also played their fair amount of friendlies. They took on Egypt U20 twice, winning one and drawing the other. They also spent a week in Tunisia where they suffered defeats at the hands of Esperance de Tunis and Club Africain.
John Obuh’s men have acclimatized to the North African climate and should pose serious problem for the majority of teams in the tournament.
Full international Kenneth Omeruo was finally left out of the squad despite him playing a match with the U20s earlier in the year. Omeruo was an integral cog of coach Keshi’s machine during the 2013 African Cup of Nations. His omission was always in doubt, but confirmation of his absence will still hurt.
The heartbeat of the side will be skipper Abduljaleel Ajagun, a promising all-round midfielder who plays for Dolphins F.C. in Abuja.17 year-old striker Christian Pyagbara can spark dangerous spurts when called upon, and Enyimba defender, Ike Okorie, has been stellar when called on.
(One can read individual player profiles here)
John Obuh will head the Nigerians over the next few weeks. The gaffer is taking a break from his duties with Sharks F.C. for this specific endeavour. He was hired with the U17’s success in mind. Obuh was coach when Nigeria U17 won silver in the 2009 U17 FIFA World Cup. Many of these players will have already played under Obuh for a few years. Obuh is certainly confident of his, and his squad’s ability.
Following an ugly draw versus Tunisia U20, he said:
‘The result was again not what we expected, but the performance of the team has re-assured us we will be the team to beat in Algeria.’
Goalkeepers: Samuel Okani (Enyimba), Jonah Usman (ABS), Emmanuel Daniel (Enugu Rangers)
Defenders: Mohammed Goyi Aliyu (Tavriya Simferopol), Kingsley Madu (El-Kanemi Warriors), Aigbe Oliha (ES Zarzis), Abubakar Hassan (JUTH), Ikechukwu Okorie (Enyimba), Chizoba Amaefule (Remo FC)
Midfielders: Shehu Abdullahi (Kano Pillars), Uche Agbo (Enyimba), Chidi Osuchukwu (FC Dolphins), Abdul Jeleel Ajagun (FC Dolphins), Moses Orkuma (Lobi Stars), Edafe Egbedi (AGF Aarhus), Agboyi Ovbokha (Bayelsa United)
Strikers: Olarenwaju Kayode (N/A), Alhaji Gero (Unugu Rangers), Aminu Umar (Wikki Tourists), Christian Pyagbara (Sharks FC), Bright Ejike (Sharks FC)
GABON AND MALI
Sleeping on either of these sides could prove detrimental.
The Gabonese U23 side perfectly illustrated that point two years ago when they won the CAF U23 championship. We can, however, see Gabon struggle with chemistry issues as 14/21 players play for different clubs. Coach Anicet Yala will be relying on Didier Ndong Ibrahim to shoulder the attacking load as the young Panthers look to surprise.
Mali are veritable dark horse contenders. They don’t share Gabon’s problems as most of their players have graduated from revered domestic academies. Among them the Centre Salif Keita and the mythic Djoliba. They easily disposed of the Zambian U20s in Bamako to qualify for the tournament. Mali are our favourites to pip a semi-final spot in Group B alongside Nigeria.