Ghana/Zambia: Ghana, Egypt Walk Zambia 2017 Tightrope

Ghana is in danger of missing out on the final tournament of the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 2009, needing to overturn a 3-1 deficit against Senegal in this weekend’s second leg of the final round.

The Black Satellites, global and continental champions in 2009, must overcome a Senegalese side, which has served their biggest headache in the qualifiers thus far, when the two sides lock horns in the coastal city of Cape Coast, also the ancient capital of the West African country.

At least a 2-0 win will be enough for Mas-Ud ‘Didi’ Dramani’s charges to end the dream of Joseph Koto and his boys, who were clearly the best side in the first leg in Dakar a fortnight ago. The Satellites have found a new home in the newly built ultra-modern Cape Coast Stadium, putting four unanswered goals past Ethiopia in the first official match at the 20,000-capacity stadium last month to book their place at the last hurdle.

Dramani, who has endeared himself to Ghanaian football fans after guiding the Black Maidens to a historic bronze finish at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan in 2012 coupled with two domestic league titles with Asante Kotoko, faces one of the toughest test in his coaching career, a move which has seen him hand call-ups to Ropapa Mensah and Frederick Yamoah of local side Inter Allies for the crucial clash against the Senegalese.

“The party is far from lost. We are very hopeful and I know we are capable of doing it. The boys know how important that event [tournament] is to their development as individual players and the team as a whole. We know more about the opponent and the preparation and approach will not be the same”, Dramani told the media after the defeat in Dakar.

Despite the two goal advantage, Senegal coach Koto insists there is all to play for in the return leg against Ghana, ranked amongst the elites of youth football on the continent.

“It’s a good result but nothing is done in the direction of qualification. We will start the second leg as if it was 0-0 in the first leg. We will go to Ghana and look for a positive result. With the team we have, we fear no one”, Koto stated.

Just like Ghana, Egypt finds themselves in a very tricky situation traveling to Angola after managing a lone goal victory from the first leg in Cairo. There is increasing pressure on coach Moatemed Gamal to reach the final tournament after the Young Pharaohs missed out on the chance to defend their title at the last edition in Senegal. The sad news for the Egyptians is the unavailability of Mostafa Mohamed, whose 57th minute goal decided the tie in Cairo, due to suspension for the trip to Luanda to face the ‘Palanquinhas’ riding on a crest wave under coach Sami Matias.

Holders Nigeria are on course to maintain their enviable record of qualifying for every edition of the continental championship since 2005, hosting Sudan in Lagos on Saturday on the back of a 2-1 win from the reverse in Omdurman.

South Africa’s Amajita are also fancied to complete a double over regional rivals, Lesotho to reach the eight-team tourney for the second time in succession, whilst a 3-0 win for Cameroon in the first leg puts them in pole position to go through as they travel to Tunisia to face Libya. ‘Les Lionceaux’ has failed to qualify for the final tournament since 2011 in South Africa.

Mali stands a good chance against Burkina Faso in Bamako on the wings of a barren draw from the previous meeting in Ouagadougou, whilst Guinea and Gambia sort things out in Conakry.

The seven winners will join host Zambia for the final tournament of the 20th edition of U-20 Africa Cup of Nations scheduled for 26 February to 12 March 2017, where the semi-finalists will represent Africa at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea next May.

Source: Confederation of African Football.