The contest has been reduced to 14 teams including holders Egypt for places at the 19th edition of the biennial championship, which has always served a platform for the unearthing of talents for the senior national teams.
Besides Egypt, Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria, all finalists at the last edition held in Algeria last year, face tough battles to qualify yet again for the continent’s biggest stage for youth football.
The journey begins on Friday in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, where Libya will play host to the Young Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. The game is taking place in neighbouring Tunisia due to the security concerns in Libya.
The Ivorians travel to the Tunisian capital in a buoyant mood after beating their South African counterparts 1-0 in a friendly last week in Abidjan, whilst counting on the experience of Victorien Angban of English giants, Chelsea and Yacou Meite of French champions, Paris Saint-Germain to aid their course.
On Saturday, Malawi will face Zambia in a battle of Southern Africans in Blantyre, with the Young Flames hoping for another upset after seeing off DR Congo at the previous round. Each member of the Malawian squad pocketed 50,000 Kwacha (about 126 US Dollars) for going past the Congolese, and coach Ernest Mtawali has voiced out that their neighbours cannot stand between them and qualification for the biennial championship for the first time since 1999.
Despite their pre-match favourites tag, Zambia coach Hector Chilombo is leaving no stone unturned against their hosts insisting “we might have an edge over Malawi at the senior level but it is a different case at the junior level. They will not play as underdogs, that is why we won’t underrate them. We are taking the game seriously because our aim still remains to qualify to Senegal,” Chilombo told Zambian daily, Post newspaper.
At the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon will square South Africa in a tricky test. The South Africans, managed by newly appointed national team coach, Ephraim Mashaba, go into the game better prepared after a two-week four-nation training tour of West Africa.
The Amajita managed a win-less spell during the tour; drew with Burkina Faso (1-1) and Mali (0-0) and lost 1-0 each to Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, however Mashaba is upbeat the trip will impact in the clash against the Cameroonians.
“What happened in West Africa on our tour recently will now be of great assistance, as the players know what to expect. I have been telling the boys this is the final hurdle. I have full confidence in the squad that we have that we will return with positive results,” Mashaba told the South African Football Association website before the team’s departure for Yaoundé.
Nigeria, the most successful club in the history of the championship, will host Lesotho in a repeat of a meeting between the two sides, which the Flying Eagles triumphed 4-0 at Ibadan.
Holders Egypt face a dicey trip to Pointe-Noire as guest of Congo with an aim for a first leg cushioning. The Congolese will seek to avenge the loss by their juniors (U-17 team), which lost on penalties to Egypt a fortnight ago in the qualifiers for the 2015 African U-17 Championship qualifiers in Pointe-Noire.
Ghana’s Black Satellites will be at home at the Accra Sports Stadium against their Gabonese counterparts whilst Mali and Togo sort things at the Modibo Keita Stadium in Bamako.
The second leg matches will take place in a fortnight with the winners joining hosts Senegal for the final tournament scheduled for 8-22 March 2015, where the semi-finalists will represent the continent at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand later next year.
15-08-2014 Libya vs Cote d'Ivoire (17h00) [In Tunis]
16-08-2014 Malawi vs Zambia (15h00)
16-08-2014 Nigeria vs Lesotho (15h00)
16-08-2014 Cameroon vs South Africa (14h00)
17-08-2014 Ghana vs Gabon (15h00)
17-08-2014 Congo vs Egypt (15h30)
17-08-2014 Mali vs Togo (16h00)