U-17 World Cup: Pressure to win nothing new to African sides

By Oluwashina OkelejiBBC Sport
Nigeria win 2013 U-17 World Cup
Nigeria win 2013 U-17 World Cup

Four nations will represent Africa at the Fifa Under-17 World Cup finals in Chile, including defending champions Nigeria, and current African champions Mali.

Mali sealed the African title with victory in Niger in March, and will be joined in Chile by runners-up South Africa and losing semi-finalists Nigeria and Guinea.

The Golden Eaglets of Nigeria are the most successful side in the history of the event with four wins and three runners-up medals.

The tournament runs from 17 October to 8 November,

BBC Sport profiles Africa's contenders in Chile

MALI: African champions Mali are hoping to follow in the historic footsteps of Nigeria and Ghana by winning the Fifa Under-17 World Cup which kicks-off in Chile on Saturday.

Les Aiglonnets are only returning to the tournament after three consecutive appearances between 1997 and 2001.

They won their maiden continental trophy after beating South Africa 2-0 in the final to land in South America.

Mali, who have twice finished in the quarterfinals in 1997 and 2001, are in Group D with Belgium, Honduras and Ecuador.

Despite a 14-year absence at the finals, coach Baye Bah believes his team - the highest scoring side in Niger with 10 goals - can repeat their continental success on the world stage.

"We will respect all our opponents, but our goal is to go as far as possible. My players have the determination to compete in the semi-final or even the final of the World Cup" Bah told the Fifa website.external-link

After meeting European semi-finalists Belgium in their Group D opener on Sunday, Mali will tackle Ecuador before the final group fixture against debutants Honduras.

The talented trio of Aly Malle, Sidiki Maiga, Boubabcar Traore will be hoping to emulate national stars Seydou Keita, Mahamadou Diarra and Adama Coulibaly by using the tournament as a springboard to success.

SOUTH AFRICA: Runners-up at the African championship behind Mali, the Amajimbos qualified for their maiden U-17 World Cup in stunning fashion.

They drew against Ivory Coast and Mali before securing the tense victory they needed against Cameroon in the final group game to seal a place in Chile.

By beating Nigeria in the semi-final - thanks to Khanyisa Mayo's lone strike - South Africa proved they are not travelling to South America as tourists.

Under 46-year-old coach Molefi Ntseki, the man who masterminded their success in Niger, they have put team work before individual brilliance.

The former teacher and psychology graduate is convinced he has future stars in his squad and says the tournament in Chile is big a chance for the youngsters to make their mark.

"This team is a foundation for the future. Just in terms of having played at the African championships and the World Cup, they will have gained a lot of experience, and they will be coming to a good age for the 2022 World Cup."

Defender Katlego Mohamme provides cover at the back; Athenkosi Dlala and Nelson Maluleke pull the strings in midfield, while Khanyisa Mayo provides the threat up front.

South Africa face experienced Costa Rica in their opening match and Asian champions North Korea in the second before they take on European semi-finalists Russia in the final group game.

GUINEA: Le Syli Cadet finished fourth at the inaugural edition in China in 1985 but crashed out in the group stage at the 1989 and 1995 tournaments.

They qualified for Chile courtesy of a third-place finish at the African U-17 championships in Niger, by beating favourites Nigeria 3-1 in the play-off.

Guinea have been drawn in a tough Group B, where they will open the competition against England. They will then face South Korea in the second group game and will take on three-time winners Brazil in their third game.

Coach Hamidou Camara has retained all but three of the squad that beat Nigeria in the play-off game in Niger. One of those is Augustin Bangoura a talented forward who plays in France and is the only Europe-based player in the 21-man squad.

Camara has lowered expectations back home by revealing that as he picked his side for Chile, his eyes were firmly on the future.

"We are hosting the Cup of Nations in 2023, and these young players will be between 23 and 25 in just under eight years", Camara told Fifa's website. external-link

"Some will probably make the side then. International players must already think of the future, though at the moment I must think of the present, which is the World Cup in Chile."

NIGERIA: The defending champions only just qualified for this year's edition after finishing fourth at the African championship in March.

The Golden Eaglets are the most successful team in the history of the event with four wins and three runners-up medals.

Nigeria, the only African representative from the last edition in the UAE to qualify for this year's event, will begin their campaign on the opening day against USA before facing hosts Chile and finally Croatia.

The class of 2013 include Manchester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho who was voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player, and Liverpool's Taiwo Awoniyi.

Despite the absence of notable stars in the 2015 squad, coach Emmanuel Amuneke knows there will still be pressure on his side.

"It's a normal pressure because Nigerians expect us to win every competition we participate in," the former Barcelona and Nigeria international winger told BBC Sport.

"We had a good preparation in Argentina and we will give our best because we are representing our country and the continent of Africa."

Over the years stars like Nwankwo Kanu, Wilson Oruma, John Mikel Obi, Lukman Haruna, Ogenyi Onazi, Kenneth Omeruo and Ramon Azeez have all played at the tournament.

Exciting captain Kelechi Nwakali, Ebere Osinachi and Samuel Chukwueze will also be hoping to announce their arrival on the global stage.

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