The eight teams for the final tournament for the 20thn edition of the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations Zambia 2017 are now known, but it wasn’t without the usual shocks and surprises that characterizes the battle for places of any major championship.
Prior to the weekend’s second leg matches of the third round and final round, host Zambia was the only confirmed participant by virtue of the tournament taking place on their soil.
At the close of Sunday, the seven other spots were picked by Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Sudan.
Sudan made the headlines with the biggest shock upsetting holders Nigeria 4-3 away in Lagos on Saturday to qualify via away goals after a 5-5 tie on aggregate, the second time in a row the defending champion has missed the final party.
The feat served a repeat of what happened in the qualifiers for the 1997 edition in Morocco, when Sudan edged Nigeria in what marked their only appearance at the eight team tournament.
Striker Khaled Abdulmonen Osman was hero for the Sudanese netting a hat-trick, which fuelled their bid for victory despite finishing the game with ten men after Walaa Eldin Musa was sent off after a second yellow card on 63 minutes. Samuel Chukwueze, Funsho Bamgboye and Orji Okonkwo were the scorers for Nigeria, who paraded a squad dominated by graduates from the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 winning squad. Sudan’s other goal was from Amjad Ismail.
Whilst the Flying Eagles will be missing out on the showpiece youth football championship for the first time since 2005, the biggest news is the fact that this is the first time either of the two of the powerhouses of youth football, Nigeria and Ghana has failed to qualify for the tourney, also the continental qualifiers for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Between the two teams count 10 titles with seven of them for Nigeria including the last edition in Senegal in 2015.
The Ghanaians beat Senegal 1-0 courtesy a Charles Boateng first half strike in Cape Coast on Friday but it was not enough to annul the 3-1 loss from the leg in Dakar as the latter advanced 3-2 on aggregate.
It is the first time since 2009 that the Black Satellites, the first and only African team to have won the FIFA U-20 World Cup (in 2009 in Egypt), have failed to qualify for the continental championship and the news is a bitter pill for football lovers in the West African nation to swallow.
Egypt, winners in 2013 failed to qualify for the last edition in Senegal in 2015. However, the Junior Pharaohs booked their place for next year’s tourney in grand style, beating Angola 4-0 away in Luanda and 5-0 on aggregate.
Karim Walid broke the deadlock on 12 minutes before Ahmed Ramadan doubled the lead just before the break. Ramadan completed his brace on 72 minutes with Amed Yasser completing the goal rout in stoppage time.
In Bloemfontein, a spirited second half performance inspired South Africa to a 3-0 win over Lesotho and 5-0 on aggregate. Liam Jonathan scored the opener four minutes after recess. Sibongakonke Ntuthuko strengthened the lead on 83 minutes before Zama Rambuwane put the icing on the cake two minutes from time.
Guinea reached the final tournament for the first time in 18-years after overcoming Gambia 2-1 in Conakry. Daouda Camara and Momo Yansane gave the Sylis a two-goal lead with Pa Omar Jobe grabbing a consolation for the visitors five minutes from time.
Mali made it five times in a row thanks to goals in each half from Sekou Koita and Siaka Bagayoko. ‘Les Aiglons’ advanced 2-0 on aggregate.
Cameroon completes the octet despite suffering a 1-0 loss against Libya in Tunis, booking their place 3-1 on aggregate. Alaa Masaud scored the only goal three minutes from time with Cameroon having Karl Junior Ndedi sent off in the closing stages after a second yellow card.
The final tournament is scheduled for 26 February to 12 March 2017, where the semi-finalists will represent Africa at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic next May.