May 24, 2017

Ghana’s men’s U-17 football team, the Black Starlets, are trying to mark another territory, this afternoon, during their match with familiar opponents, the Menas of Niger, in a semifinal clash of the Africa U-17 championship in Port Gentil, Gabon.

Niger’s Menas made the semifinals, having gained only four points in three games, conceding four goals in the process. They placed second behind Mali in a group that also included Tanzania and Angola

In contrast, their opponents, the Black Starlets, topped Group A, having amassed seven points from smashing Cameroun 4-0 in their opening encounter, obliterating hosts Gabon 5-0 before earning an 0-0 draw against the high-flying Guineans, who placed second.

Again, the Starlets have scored nine goals in three matches and conceded none, a towering stat that puts them streets ahead of their Nigerien opponents, going into the match, this afternoon.

Clearly, the pedigree of the Black Starlets – who had been absent from the competition the past decade – towers above the Nigerien.

They have won the continental title twice (1995, 1999), made the semis six times whereas the Menas are marking their territory at the semis for the first time, since making their debut in the competition in 2009, before hosting it in 2015, to no discernible success.

No wonder a former Black Starlets coach, David Duncan, who led the team in 2005 to win the silver medal, tips Ghana.

In an interview with Atinka FM last week, he said, “Watching them from Day One, I must say we have a good team. I believe if they are able to maintain their performance put up so far, they stand a better chance of winning the trophy by the end of the competition.”

However, the Managing Director of Data Bank Group, Kojo Addae-Mensah, is not that impressed.

Speaking on a segment dubbed, Kojo’s corner, on Happy FM’s anopa bosuo edition last Friday, the veteran media practitioner contended there are a lot of faults in the team’s performances, and called for a search for remedies instead of the overwhelming praise, so far.

“I have heard scores of people heaping praises on the national Under-17 team but I think there is a lot to be done on this team.

“There are a lot of gaps in the defence, and several faulty passes, too. Some of their tackles are too dangerous and if we go and play like this at the world cup, we would get lashed, meeting countries like Spain and Germany.”

It is hard to say if that pessimism might have inspired the Nigeriens. Hear Soumaila Tiemogo, their head coach:

“It has been a very long time since we chalked something of this sort and we are grateful to God for reaching the semi-finals and the World Cup as well.

“The authorities invested in these boys and this has paid off. Our people believed in us so much and I’m glad we didn’t disappoint them”.

How about the imposing stature of the Black Starlets? Disappointed to have to play them? Tiemogo  says they have learnt their lessons from previous encounters with the Starlets, for whom they are primed for battle, today, promising an upset.

Yet, Paa Kwesi Fabin, coach of the impressive Black Starlets, would have none of that.

“Our chance of progressing to the final is very bright.

“… our chances are bright and I think we knowing each other will make the game an interesting one,” said coach Fabin, in a pre-match conference, yesterday.

Also, he  has stressed the determination of his boys to defeat the Nigeriens, again, and proceed to the final to equal Ghana’s last continental conquest at the Guinea 1999 edition, following their crushing 3-1 defeat of Burkina Faso in the final.

Whatever today’s outcome, both sides have qualified for this year’s U-17 world cup tournament, scheduled for October in India.

STORY BY: Elikem Justice

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