The battle for places at the final tournament of the 20th edition of the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations Zambia 2017 enters the final lap this weekend.
The first leg matches of the third round will be highlighted by the encounter in Omdurman where holders Nigeria play as guest of Sudan.
Almost two decades ago, the Junior Desert Hawks soared past Nigeria’s Flying Eagles via away goals after a 2-2 tie on the back of a 2-1 away loss in Enugu and a 1-0 home win in Khartoum, to qualify for the 1997 edition of the U-20 AFCON in Morocco.
This time round, Sudan’s journey began after opponents at the First Round, Kenya, were disqualified after fielding ineligible players, before booking their place at the ultimate round without kicking a ball following the withdrawal of Malawi.
Though the Sudanese will be coming up against a Nigeria squad dominated by members of the Golden Eaglets ‘Class of 2015’ that conquered the world in Chile last October; head coach Emmanuel Amuneke is not oblivious of the damage their host could do to their aspirations of successfully defending the title in Zambia next year.
“We are aware of what the Sudanese can do and we have equally been reminded about how they stopped Nigeria from qualifying for the final tournament in 1997. They won’t be a push over for us and we are not going to underrate them either.
“We have been preparing hard knowing that they are our last hurdle in achieving our objective of qualifying for the U-20 AFCON in Zambia. We are optimistic going into this first leg game in Omdurman because this is a new Nigerian team with a strong mentality,” Amuneke told CAFonline.com.
Nigeria, the most successful team at this level on the continent with a record seven titles, but Amuneke believes pedigree would count for nothing against the Sudanese, adding his young guns must prove they are equal to the task.
The Flying Eagles have been firing on all cylinders in test matches and recently recorded a morale-boosting 4-3 win over Rio de Janeiro-bound Olympic team and a 8-0 massacre of Oyah Sport, an amateur side before heading for Omdurman.
“This team has not won anything yet and we are not getting carried away despite recent good results in friendly matches. The most important match for us now is the first leg against Sudan in Omdurman. We must get a good result to boost our confidence for the second leg.”
In Dakar, ‘Les Lionceaux’ of Senegal will face Ghana’s Black Satellites in what should be a tight encounter given the pedigrees of both teams as well as their performances so far in the qualifiers.
In another West African derby, Guinea will be away in Banjul to the Young Scorpions of Gambia, who sensationally sent Morocco packing at the previous round.
Familiar foes, Burkina Faso and Mali will trade tackles in tricky duel in Ouagadougou whilst Cameroon host Libya in Bafoussam.
South Africa’s Amajita will be seeking to end the fairy-tale run of Lesotho as they travel to Maseru as guests of the latter with Egypt and Angola sorting things out in Cairo.
Seven teams will emerge from the qualifiers to 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.
Friday, 8 July 2016
Egypt vs Angola
Saturday, 9 July 2016
Senegal vs Ghana
Gambia vs Guinea
Burkina Faso vs Mali
Sunday, 10 July 2016
Sudan vs Nigeria
Lesotho vs South Africa
Cameroon vs Libya