In special gesture, the Indian High Commission here organised a farewell party for Ghana’s U-17 football team that is headed for India for the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be held from October 6-28.
The event was organised in collaboration with Bank of Baroda and the Indian-owned retail chain Melcom.
Also known as the Black Starlets, the Ghana U-17 team will represent Africa at the showpiece event together with their counterparts from Mali, Niger and Guinea in the West Africa.
They are drawn in the same group with India, USA and Colombia. Players from the four countries have promised to showcase African football to the Indian fans.
Two-time U-17 World Cup champions, in 1991 and 1995, the Ghanaian side was the first among the West African quartet to book their place in the tournament after they eased their way into the Confederation of African Football U-17 semi-finals on May 5.
Their coach is 58-year-old Paa Kwesi Fabin, who has been at the helm of top local clubs such as Heart of Lions, Asante Kotoko, Hearts of Oak and Inter Allies.
Fabin has asserted that he is going to India to win the U-17 World Cup and will enjoy playing Ghana’s brand of football.
Mali qualified for three successive FIFA U-17 World Cups between 1997 and 2001, but then experienced something of a downturn, missing out on the tournament for the 10 years that followed.
The Malians were knocked out on penalties by Germany in 1997 at the quarter-final stage. Seydou Keita, who missed the spot-kick at the match went on to become a star for major European clubs, such as Sevilla, FC Barcelona and AS Roma.
Known as the Les Aiglonnets, the team failed again in 1999 to move into the group stage in New Zealand. In 2001, they came close to breaking into the last four, but lost out to Argentina 2-1 in extra time. It was not until Chile 2015, where they made it all the way to the final — which resulted in a 2-0 defeat to Nigeria — that they overcame the quarter-final hurdle.
Coached by Togolese tactician Jonas Komla, who has guided his charges to continental glory, Mali are looking forward to perform on the global stage by reaching the final in India.
“We want to honour Mali and all of Africa during the U-17 World Cup,” he said. “But it’s a completely different level. It’s another challenge, and we’ll have to prepare for it in a serious manner.”
Niger are making their debut at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, but this would not be the last because a number of development programmes have been implemented in the country in recent years, while a new national academy — funded by the FIFA Goal Project — was opened by FIFA President Gianni Infantino in March.
Their coach, Tiemogo Soumaila was already a football hero in the country even before leading the Under-17 team, the Junior Menas, to India. A former captain of the senior national team, Soumaila was a defender noted for his solidity on the ground and his prowess in the air, qualities that earned him the nickname “The Emperor”. Now 54, Soumaila, combines his duties as Niger’s U-17 coach with his post as the head of the Atcha Academie training centre.
Guinea are making their fifth appearance in the FIFA U-17 World Cup this year. Along with Nigeria and Congo, Le Syli Cadet (Junior National Elephants) were one of the first three African sides to take part in the competition, recording two wins, two draws and two defeats en route to finishing fourth in China 1985.
In 1989, the team missed out in Scotland, when they could not book a place in the second round, despite finishing the group phase unbeaten with three draws. The Guineans fell at the first hurdle again in their third tournament appearance at Ecuador 1995, beating Portugal but losing to Argentina and Costa Rica.
The Junior National Elephants suffered another first-round exit two years ago in Chile, where they drew 1-1 with England and lost 3-1 and 1-0 to Brazil and Korea Republic, respectively.
The coach, Souleymane Camara owes his nickname “Abedi” to his admiration for Ghana legend Abedi Pele.
(Francis Kokutse can be contacted at [email protected])