When it comes to the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Nigeria’s dominance of the prestigious age group tournament is often spoken of. The African nation has not done much at the senior World Cup but has won the U-17 equivalent five times — more than any other team.
However, while their domination has been strung over 16 editions of the tournament, no one established their credentials as heavyweights in the category quite like Ghana. The Ghanaians were so rampant in the 10-year phase between the 1991 and 1999 edition that they won the title twice (1991, 1995), besides finishing second two more times (1993, 1997). They also finished the 1999 edition in third place.
The country’s fortunes have, however, plummeted since those heady days. Barring a semi-final spot at the 2007 edition held in South Korea, Ghana have never been contenders.
In fact, the Black Starlets will be competing in their first U-17 World Cup in a decade when the competition begins on 6 October with Ghana taking on Colombia in New Delhi. Being drawn in Group A with teams like South American giants Colombia, USA and India, who will have overwhelming support from the stands, the African outfit will have their work cut out to progress to the knockout stages. Luckily for them, the format of the tournament means that four best third-placed teams will also get an entry into the knockout stages.
What would hold them in good stead is the confidence they gained from finishing second in the uber-competitive African U-17 Championships held earlier this year. In their qualifiers, they first overcame a strong challenge from Burkina Faso, edging past them 6-5 over two legs, before beating Ivory Coast. Then, in the main tournament they thumped Cameroon 4-0 before drubbing Gabon 5-0. In the semi-final of the competition, they beat Niger on penalties before losing 0-1 to Mali in the final.
Now, the talented youngsters will have to shoulder the burden of winning a title their country last won before any of them were even born.
Recently Kwesi Nyantakyi, the president of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), was quoted in the Ghanaian local media proclaiming that the team was good enough to win the World Cup.
“The Starlets have the quality to win the World Cup after some players were released by their clubs,” he said.
The national team coach Paa Kwesi Fabin was more circumspect. However, he was confident that despite the weight of pressure weighing on the shoulders of his wards, the team would make an impact in India.
“We are not travelling to India just to add up to the numbers. We are going to work hard to win the ultimate but I don’t want to promise. I just want to tell Ghanaians that they should expect a very good tournament from the team,” the coach stated in an interview with Graphic Sports before the team flew out to UAE for a training camp earlier this month.
Ghana’s return to the U-17 World Cup after 10 years of missing out may be a sign that things are finally on track in the African country. But given their past pedigree, nothing less than a title would be good enough.
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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 17:54:05 IST