* Niger battle Guinea for third-place
It is the finale purists yearned for and on Sunday, defending champions, Mali would strongly defend their crown against two-time champions, Ghana as the Total U-17 Africa Cup of Nations Gabon 2017 comes to an end at Stade de L’Amitié in Libreville.
At Gabon 2017, both have passed through contrasting routes leading to the final with the Black Starlets being declared favourites after pummelling Cameroon (4-0) and Niger (5-0) in their first two matches in Group A before their goalless draw against Guinea. Mali on the other hand, started slow and steady with a goalless draw against debuting Tanzania before dispatching Niger (2-1) and a 6-1 flourish over Angola.
But for all their tenacity and resolve, both sides failed to score in the semi-finals and only went through after penalty shootout as Ghana edged Niger 6-5 while Mali had goalkeeper Youssouf Koita to thank as he foiled Guinea in a 2-0 penalty win.
Yet the coaches have promised a lively cup final match in front of an expectant crowd at the 40,000 capacity Stade d'Angondjé otherwise known as Stade de L’Amitié.
“The vigour and hunger will come again against Mali because the trophy is at stake; we are going to raise the vigour on Sunday,” stated Samuel Fabian, the 58-year-old former coach of Ghana’s Heart of Oaks and Ashante Kotoko.
“There would be two results tomorrow either you win or lose; gold or silver but what I want to promise is that we are going to showcase a very good African football match tomorrow so that the world will know that very soon, an African team can win the senior World Cup,” he noted.
His Malian counterpart, Jonas Kokou Komla was equally enthusiastic: “My philosophy is to win, even if my team doesn't play well; each coach has strategies but it is not for me to disclose what strategy I'm going to employ.
He continued: “I have not seen Ghana well but with what I have seen, I know they have great players which will make this match very interesting and hopefully we are going to see many goals; and I expect my team to score more goals.”
Meanwhile, in the other match at the same venue earlier on Sunday, Niger and Guinea will battle for the third-place position.
This would be their second meeting in two years after the Le Syli Cadets beat the Le Mena Cadets 2-1 in front of their home fans when Niger hosted the championship in 2015.
All the four teams in the meantime, have secured the available continental tickets to the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be hosted in India in October.
MATCH 15: GUINEA VS. NIGER- STADE DE L’AMITIE
2015(prelim): Niger 1-2 Guinea
Souleymane Camara (Head Coach, Guinea)
We were not dominated by Mali in the semi-final but whatever what was going to happen would happen no matter what you do. We prepared for the penalties but we have accepted our fate and focus on the next objective. We would go out tomorrow against Niger and contest the third-place match and we would do our best to get on to the podium. We missed the objective of winning the trophy but the fact that the four of us is going to the World Cup in India gives me tremendous joy; we would approach the match against Niger with all seriousness. I'm going to ensure that I pushed the players so well so that they can do things my way and imposed my method. Once you have the passion to do well, you keep working hard and set fresh target that can be accomplished. We would organise well for the World Cup and ensure that we represent our country as well as the continent very well in India.
MATCH 16: MALI VS. GHANA -- STADE DE L’AMITIE, LIBREVILLE
1995 (prelim): Ghana 1-0 Mali
1997: Semi): Ghana 1-2 Mali
2005(prelim): Ghana 3-2 Mali
Jonas Kokou Komla (Head Coach, Mali)
It will be a great final between two great soccer playing countries. We know that Ghana is a good team and they also have weaknesses; it is left to us to exploit that weaknesses so that we can achieve the objective of winning the trophy. The most important for us was winning our match against Guinea irrespective of the fact that they dominated the match. My philosophy is to win, even if my team doesn't play well. Each coach has strategies but it is not for me to disclose what strategy I'm going to employ, I have not seen Ghana well but with what I have seen, I know they have great players which will make this match very interesting and hopefully we are going to see many goals; and I expect my team to score more goals. The crisis we went through before getting here did not allow us to even prepared very well but we have given a good account of ourselves and we are going to do even more better on Sunday against Ghana.
Samuel Fabian (Head Coach, Ghana)
We all know about economics and law of diminishing return; and after playing at high tempo in the first two matches and won against Cameroon and Gabon it was natural that the boys were a bit tired especially since they don't have long time for recovery. But we have not diminished technically because even when we lost the vigour, our technics has seen us through.
The vigour and hunger will come again against Mali because the trophy is at stake; we are going to raise the vigour on Sunday. Unfortunately, I'm not going to reveal anything about what we are going to do against Mali, I have watched them and I'm sure they also have watched us, so we must expect a very good. There would be two results tomorrow either you win or lose; gold or silver but what I want to promise is that we are going to showcase a very good African football tomorrow so that the world will know that very soon, an African team can win the senior World Cup.
Past African u-17 AFCON winners
1995(Mali): Ghana 3-1 Nigeria
1997(Botswana): Egypt 1–0 Mali
1999(Guinea): Ghana 3–1 Burkina Faso
2001(Seychelles): Nigeria 3–0 Burkina Faso
2003(Swaziland): Cameroon 1–0 Sierra Leone (aet)
2005(The Gambia): Gambia 1–0 Ghana
2007(Togo): Nigeria 1–0 Togo(aet)
2009(Algeria): Gambia 3–1 Algeria
2011(Rwanda): Burkina Faso 2–1 Rwanda
2013(Morocco): Nigeria 1–1 Cote d’Ivoire*
2015(Niger): Mali 2–0 South Africa
*Cote d’Ivoire won 5-4 on penalties