WITH all eight nations already in Dar es Salaam for the eagerly awaited CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals the ‘Heaven of Peace’ city is buzzing ahead of tomorrow kick off.
The grand opening ceremony to be graced by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa will see hosts Serengeti Boys launching their road to Brazil World Cup campaign against mighty Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets at the National Stadium.
Serengeti Boys, who pitched training camp in Kigali, Rwanda after taking part in an Invitational tournament last week, are already back in Dar es Salaam, ready for their tomorrow’s opening game. The Boys under the tutelage of Oscar Mirambo are pooled in group A alongside, Nigeria, Angola and Uganda. Coach Mirambo has declared his charges readiness for the finals, promising to fly high Tanzania flag in the prestigious event.
Serengeti Boys top striker Kevin John, who sustained injury in Kigali, has been declared fit for the tournament and he has also insisted that he is in good shape to help the team fire from all cylinders. Golden Eaglets Assistant Coach, Nduka Ugbade, is positive on the chances of the team claiming a third U-17 AFCON title. “The truth is that the U-17 AFCON is very competitive because of the amount of effort that is concentrated upon it by most countries,” Ugbade, who was also an assistant to Garba when Nigeria won the U-20 AFCON four years ago in Senegal told CAFOnline.com.
“Teams from Africa can compete favourably well at the FIFA World Cup because the intensity of the game at this level on the continent is very high and that is why the Nigerian team over the years is difficult to beat, due to strength, skills and mental speed.” Ugbade also states that CAF has raised the bar for the U-17 AFCON with recently introduced regional tournaments to determine eventual qualifiers for the biennial continental competition.
“I think the U-17 AFCON has taken a new dimension because you must have competed at the highest level to earn the zonal ticket and it makes the competition tougher,” he explained. “How I wish CAF can allow two teams from each zone to qualify for the main championship in future because some of the traditional teams like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire andeven South Africa would not be in Tanzania.”
The Eaglets were lucky to make the trip to Tanzania since Ghana nearly upset their applecart in the regional WAFU Zone B final match in Niger last September where they triumphed 3-1 on penalties after they both tied 1-1 in regulation time. Ugbade continued: “I want to believe our zonal tournament in Niger was the toughest, but I think it has also toughened our mental strength ahead of the trip to Tanzania.
“I so much believe in this team we are taking to Tanzania and I will be the happiest because I have not won the U-17 AFCON before and the last time we were beaten in the final on penalties by Cote d’Ivoire in 2013.” The present lads showed their readiness for the 2019 AFCON at the recent UEFAorganised U-17 Turkey Invitational Tournament where despite losing 2-0 in their opener against Senegal, they beat Montenegro (4-2) and their Group A rivals in Tanzania, Angola (3-1).
“There won’t be any margin for errors for us in Tanzania because we will have the best teams from all the regions of Africa,” noted Ugbade who was part of the Super Eagles’ 1994 AFCON-winning team in Tunisia and he was the captain of the pioneer Golden Eaglets that won the inaugural FIFA U-17 World Cup in China, in 1985. “Apart from Senegal that defeated us in Turkey, we will also have Cameroon and Guinea.
“Our objective first and foremost would be qualification for the World Cup by reaching the semi-finals and, thereafter, we can focus our attention on winning the trophy for the third time for Nigeria,” he noted.