By JOE APU
The 10th edition of CAF Under-17 Championship gets underway in Morocco this weekend with the host taking on Gabon in Group A match to be played at Complexe Sportif Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca on Saturday at 15h00 local time.
The second match of the day will take place at the same venue at 18h30, when Tunisia and Botswana compete in the Group A first games.
Group B matches will kick off the following day in Marrakech, with Congo and Ivory Coast opening the proceedings at Grand Stade de Marrakech at 15h00 before Ghana and Nigeria clash at 18h30. At stake at the championship is not only the chance to replace Burkina Faso, which did not qualify to defend her title as the reigning African champion, but the semi-finalists will get to represent the continent at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup to be held in United Arab Emirates from October 17 – November 8, 2013. Nigeria and Ghana have won the African titles twice each and only Gambia has matched that record, but the former pair have a chance to increase their tally in Morocco.
It is Nigeria and Ghana that have brought the FIFA Under-17 World Cup titles to the continent, with Nigeria having won three world titles, while Ghana won it two times.
Not many people are looking beyond these two teams as winners of the 2013 Morocco edition, but ruling out the other six countries will tantamount to shortsightedness as previous tournaments had proved.
Morocco will be keen to impress on home soil. Recently, the host beat Niger 3-2 in a preparatory match. Ivory Coast will be hoping to have a say in the proceedings. The country comes into the tournament on the back of some good warm-up results.
The baby Elephants have been holding training camp in Tunisia and managed to beat their host 4-2 recently after playing out a draw in the first match. Meanwhile, Ghana’s Under-17 team, known as The Black Starlets, has been training and preparing in Italy for the finals in Morocco.
The Black Starlets hammered Swiss second division side, FC Goussau 10-0 in a warm-up match, but fell 3-2 to a Sampdoria side that was made up of players from the first team and youth side. For Botswana, taking part in the finals for the third time, the mission is to try and win the first match at the finals and then build from there. Congo finished third two years ago when the finals played out in Rwanda.
Now, Congo has set a semi-final target for her players.
The boys from Brazzaville want another appearance at FIFA World Cup and will have to battle Ivory Coast whom they beat for the third place in 2011. Ghana and Nigeria are in Group B.