Under-20 World Cup: African sides ready for challenge

The Under-20 World Cup trophy

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

The Ghanaians became the first Africans to ever win the tournament in Egypt six years ago and they are the continent's fourth representative this year after finishing in third place at April's African Under-20 Championship.

Nigeria won that tournament after beating hosts Senegal 1-0 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, Ghana's Michael Essien and Nigeria's John Mikel Obi.

BBC Sport profiles Africa's contenders in New Zealand.

NIGERIA

Kelechi Iheanacho
Kelechi Iheanacho is on the books of English Premier League side Manchester City

Despite global successes at Under-17 and Under-23/Olympic level, Nigeria have never been crowned under-20 champions despite an African record ten 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 in 2005.

Under coach Manu Garba, Nigeria bagged their seventh African youth crown when triumphing in Senegal in March.

Nigeria's fixtures:
01 June: v Brazil
04 June: v North Korea
07 June: v Hungary

Garba, who had previously guided the country to a record fourth U-17 World Cup title in 2013, believes his team can finally deliver under-20 success at the 20th edition of the biennial event.

"We have a strong squad with one football philosophy and if they do what they are told I believe we'll go all the way," he told BBC Sport.

Garba will be hoping for a star performance from highly-rated youngster Kelechi Iheanacho, who plays for Manchester City and was voted Most Valuable Player at the Under-17 World Cup two years ago.

Taiwo Awoniyi is the main goal threat for the Flying Eagles and Musa Yahaya adds considerable steel in midfield.

Moses Simon, who has already made his debut for Nigeria's senior side, will be keen to demonstrate his goalscoring threat as effectively at this World Cup as he has for newly crowned Belgian champions Gent over the past six months.

Nigeria will be making a continental record of eleventh appearance at the tournament. After meeting five-time champions Brazil in their Group E opener, the Flying Eagles will fancy getting a result against North Korea and Hungary.

SENEGAL

Senegal under-20's Roger Gomis
France-based Roger Gomis is captain of the Senegal under-20 side

Senegal's under-20 side surpassed expectations when they bounced back from an opening day defeat to Nigeria to finish as runners-up at the African championship on home soil.

The Young Lions under former Senegal coach Joseph Koto are a blend of tactically astute foreign-based and talented locally-based youngsters.

The Cubs are making their debut at the under-20 tournament and Koto is hoping they can translate their continental form on the world stage.

Senegal's fixtures
31 May: v Portugal
03 June: v Colombia
06 June: v Qatar

He said: "We are happy with how we did in the continental finals and showed us that we can be confident going to our first U-20 World Cup."

They will need locally-based duo Ibrahima Wadji and Sidi Sarr to be at their best as they aim to make history in New Zealand.

Senegal will also be counting on France-based trio Roger Gomis, Mamadou Thiam and Pape Abou Cisse to help them navigate their route out of Group C alongside Qatar, Colombia and Portugal.

GHANA

Ghana coach Sellas Tetteh
Sellas Tetteh is the only African coach to have won the Under-20 World Cup

After conquering the continent in Rwanda in 2009, former Ghana international Sellas Tetteh led the team to the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt later that year, becoming the first and only African team to have won the competition.

Tetteh, who also guided the Black Satellites to third place in 2011, is back on familiar terrain and will be hoping that an impressive seventh appearance in the finals will translate to another success.

"We did not manage to win [in Senegal], but the most important thing is to be at the World Cup, and we want to make Ghana and Africa proud again." said Tetteh.

Ghana's fixtures:
30 May: v Austria
02 June: v Argentina
05 June: v Panama

Ghana have an unquestionable pedigree at this level having finished runners-up in 1993 and 2001 and impressively reached the semi-finals on five occasions.

But Tetteh will need the likes of captain Joseph Owusu Bempah, Clifford Aboagye, who won the Bronze Ball as the third-best player at the Under-20 World Cup in 2013, to be at their best in New Zealand.

Manchester City's Yaw Yeboah, who enjoyed a fine African championship and voted the best player as Ghana finished third in Senegal, is in the squad.

After meeting 2007 semi-finalists Austria in their Group B opener, the Satellites will tackle six-time champions Argentina before the final group fixture against the relatively weaker Panama.

MALI

Seydou Keita
Roma's Seydou Keita was player of the tournament at the 1999 Under-20 World Cup

Mali, who qualified after finishing fourth at the African championships this year, will be appearing at their sixth Under-20 World Cup after previous trips in 1989, 1999, 2003, 2011 and 2013.

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

That was the only time the Malians, five of whose squad are based in France, have reached the knock-out stages - giving coach Fanyeri Diarra a clear target this time around in a challenging Group D.

Mali's fixtures:
31 May: v Mexico
03 June: v Serbia
06 June: Uruguay

Mali face dangerous Mexico in their opening match and Serbia in the second before they take on familiar opponent Uruguay in the final group game. The Young Eagles have beaten the South Americans in the last two meetings between the sides.

Belgium-based Alassane Diallo provides the threat up front but looking to goalkeeper Sory Ibrahim Traore for inspiration will not be enough.

Mali's six goals from five matches in Senegal was the lowest tally of the African qualifiers for New Zealand.

Interestingly, their last victory at the finals dates back to 2003 when they beat Uzbekistan in their opening group game. Since then, they have lost ten matches and drawn four.

Defender Youssouf Kone insists the players are desperate to halt the West Africans embarrassing winless streak.

"We will not be going to New Zealand as tourists. We are going there with the honour and pride of representing our continent. We want to do well." he said.

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