African quartet hoping to emulate Ghana

The Colombian city of Cartagena
Colombia is hosting the competition for the first time, with games taking place in eight cities - including the capital Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Cartagena (above)

African champions Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt and Mali are hoping to follow in the historic footsteps of Ghana's Black Satellites by winning the Under-20 World Cup.

The Ghanaians became the first Africans to ever win the tournament in Egypt two years ago but will not be defending their trophy after finishing outside the top four at April's African Youth Championship.

Nigeria won that tournament when needing extra-time to beat Cameroon 3-2 in the final.

The Under-20 World Cup has launched the careers of global stars like Argentine duo Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, Spain's Xavi, Ronaldinho of Brazil and a host of Africans - among them Malian Seydou Keita, Cameroon's Geremi and Ghana's Michael Essien.

The BBC's Piers Edwards profiles Africa's contenders in Colombia.

MALI

Mali, who qualified after finishing fourth at the African championships in South Africa this year, will be appearing at their fourth U20 World Cup after previous trips in 1989, 1999 and 2003.

Their most successful campaign was in 1999 when the West Africans finished third in Nigeria - with current Barcelona star Seydou Keita being named as the tournament's best player.

That was the only time the Malians, six of whose squad are based with French youth academies, have reached the knock-out stages - giving coach Cheik Fantamady Diallo a clear target this time around in a challenging Group A.

Diallo, a key player in Mali's one and only Africa Cup of Nations final appearance in 1972, has done to little to dampen expectations back home by calling his squad "one of the best generations in Mali's history".

The coach, 60, has good experience of youth coaching, having been at the helm when Mali reached the quarter-finals at Fifa's Under-17 World Cup in 2001 and working with the Under-20s shortly after.

Mali face South Korea in their opening match and can take heart from the fact that they reached the semi-finals the last time the pair met in the group stages of the U-20 World Cup.

Looking to captain Amara Konate, forwards Cheikh Fantamady Diarra and Kalifa Coulibaly for inspiration, the Malians will also meet tournament hosts Colombia in Bogota, where playing at altitude could be a problem with the local capital lying some 2600m above sea level.

CAMEROON

Cameroon are hoping that an impressive sixth appearance in the finals can finally take them past the quarter-finals, which they reached in 1995.

The Cameroonians showed fitting indomitable spirit in the final of this year's African Youth Championship, rallying from two goals down to force extra-time before ultimately being downed by Nigeria.

Coached by Martin Ndtoungou, the Junior Lions will be led from the back by Jean Efala, the goalkeeper who enjoyed a fine African Youth Championship.

One of Cameroon's most famous goalkeepers ever was Jacques Songo'o, who won two African Nations Cup and contested a World Cup, and his son Yann, who is on the book of Spain's Real Zaragoza, makes the squad.

"We have a very good team, we play technically well and we are going to try our best to to satisfy the people here who welcomed us very well," Ndtoungou said after being welcomed by dancing upon arrival in Cali.

Cameroon will be seeking to improve on their display in the 2009 finals, when they won just once on Egyptian soil.

NIGERIA

Despite global successes at Under-17 and Under-23/Olympic level, Nigeria have never been crowned Under-20 champions despite an African record seven appearances in the finals.

The Flying Eagles have come exceptionally close though - losing the final to Portugal in 1989 and then to Lionel Messi's Argentina six years ago.

Under coach John Obuh, Nigeria bagged their sixth African youth crown when triumphing in South Africa in April.

Africa's Under-20 champions Nigeria
Africa's Under-20 champions Nigeria warm up in Armenia, under the guidance of coach John Obuh

And he believes his team can finally deliver Under-20 success on South American soil.

"The stakes are high, we are working hard and hopefully this will be the year the country will go a step farther," he told BBC Sport.

Uboh will be hoping for a star performance from highly-rated youngster Ahmed Musa, who played just once in the African Youth Championships because of commitments with Dutch side VVV Venlo.

Nigerian fans and media believe the team have enjoyed the best preparations ever in the team's history, and hence see no reason to fail.

Unfortunately, a winless run at a warm-up tournament in Panama has already triggered criticism in some quarters.

EGYPT

Egypt's Under-20 side surpassed expectations when overcoming political turmoil back home and disrupted preparations to finish third at the African Youth Championships.

Having crashed out in the Round of 16 when hosting the tournament two years ago, Egypt's best finish is still the third place achieved in Argentina in 2001.

After meeting three-time champions Brazil in their Group E opener, the Young Pharaohs will fancy getting a result against the relatively weaker Panama and Austria.

Coach Diaa El Sayed will look to highly-rated goalkeeper Ahmed El Shenawi and playmaking forward Mohamed Hamdy as key performers in an interesting group.

The coach will be grateful that many of his squad have been playing first-team football for their Egyptian clubs, such as Zamalek duo Mohamed Ibrahim and Omar Gaber.

Egypt have had strong preparations for the event, having spent a whole month training and playing friendly matches in Portugal and Costa Rica - before arriving in Colombia with a week to spare in order to adjust to conditions.

Top Stories