African quartet seek U-17 glory
The 2011 FIFA Under-17 World Cup gets underway in Mexico on Saturday with four entrants from Africa hoping to make their mark at the tournament.
It is not the ‘usual suspects’ from the continent though, there is no Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, or any country from the north of Africa, but rather it will be Congo, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Cote d’Ivoire who will carry the continent’s flag.
Burkina Faso are the reigning African champions after they beat hosts Rwanda 2-1 in the final of the 2011 CAF Under-17 Championships in January, with Congo and the Ivorians bowing out in the semifinals.
And so the Burkinabe may be expected to mount Africa’s most serious challenge on the title. They have been pooled in Group E along with Germany, Panama and Ecuador, and might fancy their chances of finishing among the top two there, or at least as a high-ranking third-place side.
They have appeared in three previous FIFA Under-17 World Cups, finishing third in 2001, and open their 2011 challenge against the Panamanians on Monday.
Rwanda will be appearing in their first global Under-17 championships and have a tough pool that includes England, Uruguay and Canada. They open up their campaign against the English on Sunday, with French coach Richard Tardy suggesting his side have targeted the second round.
Congo have the hardest pool of the African teams as they must overcome hosts Mexico, the always excellent Netherlands and North Korea in Group A.
This will be their third visit to the finals, but the first for quite a while, having last appeared in Italy in 1991. Before that they were in China in 1985. Congo defeated Nigeria in the qualifiers for the CAF finals and so it is no fluke that they have made it all the way through to the global event.
The side is coached by Frenchman Eddie Hudanski, who also qualified the national Under-20 team for the World Cup at that age-group level four years ago. Congo play their first game on Saturday against the Dutch.
Finally, Cote d’Ivoire might well look at their Group F and believe they have a chance of advancing to the knockout stages. Aside from Brazil, the two other sides in the pool, Denmark and Australia, look beatable.
Their best finish at this level was third in 1987, and coach Alain Gouamene says continuity in selection from the CAF championships earlier in the year has been key for his side. “We have a core that is already in place and at the African championship they played at a really high level. They have experience,” he said.
The Ivorians will play Australia in their first match on Monday.
The tournament sees the 24 teams split into six groups of four, with the top two sides in each pool advancing to the Last 16. Joining them there will be the four best third-ranked sides, based on the number of points they have gained in the pool stage. Should two third-placed sides have the same number of points, they will be separated by goal-difference, then goals scored, and then the drawing of lots.
BURKINA FASO’S FIXTURES
20/06 Burkina Faso vs Panama
23/06 Burkina Faso vs Germany
26/06 Burkina Faso vs Ecuador
CÔTE D’IVOIRE’S FIXTURES
20/06 Australia vs Côte d’Ivoire
23/06 Côte d’Ivoire vs Denmark
26/06 Côte d’Ivoire vs Brazil
19/06 Rwanda vs England
22/06 Uruguay vs Rwanda
25/06 Canada vs Rwanda
18/06 Congo vs Netherlands
21/06 Mexico vs Congo
24/06 Korea DPR vs Congo