15th March, 2013
Defending champions of the African Youth Championship, AYC, the Flying Eagles will on Sunday begin the defence of the title they won two years ago in South Africa against Mali.
P.M.NEWS Sports reports that the eight-team AYC kicks off tomorrow in Algeria. Having won the title on six occasions, the Nigerian team are favourites but their quest to successfully retain their position would be tested when they confront Mali, who many have touted to be a stumbling block for the U-20 team.
The Flying Eagles’ coach John Obuh has a large pool of talented players to call upon to defend the title they won over Cameroon two years ago, when Obuh was also in charge of the side. The coach has picked a number of players who were in his squad in 2011, as well as in the U-17 team that finished second in the FIFA World Cup in 2009. He said that even though the results in friendly matches – including a 2-1 defeat against an Esperance side in Tunisia – had not been what he expected, he was satisfied with their preparations. “The performance of the team has reassured us we will be the team to beat in Algeria. I believe in this team. We have worked very hard and we will continue to work even harder to ensure the best for Nigeria,” he said.
Competing against the Flying Eagles for a semi-final place will be Mali, who are making their ninth appearance at the finals, missing out recently only in 2007. They have gone through to the semi-finals three times and have twice qualified for the World Cup. They beat Rwanda and Zambia to qualify for Algeria, and coach Moussa Keita has called up four French-based players, as well as FC Torino’s Boubakary Diarra.
Also in Group B are Gabon in only their second appearance on the continental stage, having played last in 2003, when they finished fifth. Their defender Rodrigue Bilong is the youngest player in the tournament at just 15 years old.
Competition rookies, Congo DR, caused a sensation when they trounced 2011 finalists Cameroon 4-1 in the return leg of their second round qualifier to advance to the finals on 4-3 aggregate. Their preparations for the finals have, however, not been smooth as a planned training camp in Morocco had to be cancelled for administrative reasons. Coach Baudoin Lofombo, who won last year’s Kinshasa League title with AS Rojolu, has called up eight foreign-based players, including a pair of promising Nantes players: Aristote Ndongala and Anthony Walongwa.
In other matches holding this weekend, hosts Algeria take on Republic of Benin, Ghana battle Egypt while the Democratic Republic of Congo confront Gabon.