South Africa is playing host to another festival of African football and while it is nothing on the scale of the hugely successful 2010 World Cup, those in the know in African football will have their eyes firmly fixed on Johannesburg for the next two weeks.
The Africa Youth Championships will finally kick off in Johannesburg on Sunday; a full month behind schedule after becoming a casualty of the political strife that has gripped Libya.
For a country like South Africa so used to playing host to high-profile sporting events, Under-20 players on a continent where age-group competitions have been discredited in some quarters is not likely to exactly set the pulse racing.
That will definitely not be the same with the eight teams and the players they will travel with, especially those from the west Africa sub region. Youth football is massive in that side of the continent and the likes of Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria and Mali will prove that.
They will be hoping like each of the eight teams on show to earn one of the four places available to the African continent at the World Youth championships scheduled to take place in Colombia from July 29th 2011 to August 20th 2011.
The desire to play at the world level will be a major driving motivation for the young men. For players keen on career breakthroughs and desperate to make a name for themselves, there can be no better platform to audition for a top job than the one they will have in Johannesburg and the one that will be set for them Colombia.
They will draw inspiration from the tale of many famous African football names for whom the biennial African Youth Championships has served an invaluable launch-pad.
Samuel Osei Kufuor, the Ghana defender who had a long and distinguished career with Bayern Munich, played in the squad that helped Ghana win her first title in Mauritius in 1993 alongside C.K Akunnor, who later captained the Black Stars.
In 1999, Mali came to Ghana with a team of exciting youngsters. Two of them many years later will go in to play for Real Madrid (Mamadou Diara) and Barcelona (Seydou Keita).
In 2001 Ghana went to the African Championships with a certain Michael Essien in Ethiopia. When Ghana reached the finals of the 2010 Nations Cup as many as five members of the squad had played at the previous edition of the youth championships in Rwanda. A few months later, their captain from that team Dede Ayew emerged one of the stars of the 2010 World Cup.
With many scouts bound to be in and around everywhere in Johannesburg’s Dobsonville Stadium, many players could discover their breakthrough at this level.
But the Championships throws up much fun than just who the next big stars are. Every edition seems to throw up more questions than answers about the ages of players and how genuine they are.
There will be a few tasty rivalries to look forward to too. Ghana’s game against Nigeria on Monday will top that bill. When they have met at this level it’s been cracking stuff, Ghana often the happy side. There was the win in Accra for Ghana in the 1999 edition. In 2001 Ghana thrashed Nigeria 4-1.
Nigeria and Cameroon have also a thriving rivalry. It helps for the entertainment value of the tournament as does Ghana’s meeting against Cameroon. The Black Satellites beat the Cameroonians in the 1993 final and were 2-0 winners in the 2009 finals. To say revenge will be in their minds is an understatement.
Two years ago, South Africa played about the most entertaining football in Rwanda with their semi final meeting against Ghana one of the games to behold. Khemit Erasmus and Daylen Classen were brilliant throughout.
With Mali, Lesotho and Egypt for company, Amajita will feel their chances of reaching the world youth championships a good even if they have are in this by virtue of Libya’s self inflicted misfortune.
How they do in that opening game against Mali will provide a vital clue. Hopefully it will get off to a fabulous start for the competition.
Source: Michael Oti Adjei/Kickoff.com