Niger 2019 U-20 AFCON: Scramble for four tickets to Poland begins

Eight African nations will begin the search for the four enviable tickets to the Poland 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup as the 2019 CAF U-20 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) commences in the West African country of Niger.

The continental showdown which runs from February 2 - 17, 2019 comprises of six West African rivals – hosts Niger, super powers Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso – with South African and Burundi completing the list.

The tournament has a simple format of two groups of four, with the top-two from each section qualifying for the semi-finals and the 2019 FIFA World Youth Championship.

Group A is made up of Niger, South Africa, Nigeria and Burundi while Group B, considered as the group of death, has Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana.

Mali are considered to be one of the favorites after putting up an impressive second and third qualifying rounds with aggregate victories over Tanzania (1-2, 4-1) and Cameroon (1-1, 3-0), despite the absence of several key players who had club duties in Europe.

The Black Satellites of Ghana, runners-up to Mali two years ago at the U-17 level, will hope to make amends this time out, especially after missing the last U-20 finals in Zambia. They can count on a full-strength squad too, including a clutch of talented youngsters who have collectively been trying their luck in Scandinavia.

There is also a strong case to be made for Nigeria. Seven titles and 14 podium finishes speak volumes of their consistency at this age level. They have plenty of quality in their current squad too, such as striker Yahaya Nazifi, as well as the vast experience of coach Paul Osahoun Aigbogun, who has plied his trade in Wales, the USA, South Africa and England.

Tournament regulars Senegal cannot be discounted either, after finishing runners-up in the last two editions of this championship. And while coach Youssouph Dabo remains cautious, insisting that “no two tournaments are the same, especially at youth level”, opponents will need to be on their game when facing the young Lions, who impressed in disposing of Egypt and Congo in the qualifying rounds.

The tournament takes place without defending champions Zambia who were surprisingly knocked out in the final qualifying round.
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