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Burundi envy of big nations as they head off to Niger for U20 AFCON

 2019 U20 AFCON, Niger:

 Group ‘A’:

Niger

South Africa

Nigeria

Burundi

(Top two qualify for knock-out stage and the 2019 U20 Fifa World Cup, Poland May 23- June 15)

Fixtures:

2 February 2019

Niger  v  South Africa

2 February 2019

Nigeria  v  Burundi

5 February 2019

South Africa  v  Burundi

5 February 2019

Nigeria  v  Niger

8 February 2019

Niger  v  Burundi

8 February 2019

South Africa  v  Nigeria

Group ‘B’:

Senegal

Mali

Burkina Faso

Ghana

(Top two qualify for knock-out stage and the 2019 U20 Fifa World Cup, Poland May 23- June 15)

Fixtures:

February 2019

Senegal  v  Mali

3 February 2019

Burkina Faso  v  Ghana

6 February 2019

Burkina Faso  v  Mali

6 February 2019

Ghana  v  Senegal

9 February 2019

Burkina Faso  v  Senegal

9 February 2019

Mali  v  Ghana

 …

The Tanzania U17 team before winning the recent Cecafa championship at Ingoma Stadium, Gitega in Burundi. As hosts, Tanzania are also taking part in the 2019 U17 AFCON to be staged in Dar es Salaam in April

The reserve bench of the Tanzania U17 team before winning the recent Cecafa championship at Ingoma Stadium, Gitega in Burundi. As hosts, Tanzania are also taking part in the 2019 U17 AFCON to be staged in Dar es Salaam in April

THEIR lack of attention to age-group football, the cornerstone of professional standards, is a topic of embarrassment to football federations in the Council of East and Central African (Cecafa) region. The 2019 AFCON (African Nations Cup) Under-20 championship kicks off on February 2 with only Burundi representing the area.

So poor are Cecafa nations at this level — a step away from the top game — that the topic of youth football is treated like it does not exist. Regardless, infatuation with the futile quest for the senior Cup of Nations and Fifa World Cup finals qualification saps all energy of football administrators in the region.

And they have very little to show for it. In recent past none of the region struggles to even have a representative in the AFCON finals, let alone show near capability of serious contention for the title only won before by Sudan (1970) and Ethiopia (1962).

At the moment, the forthcoming U20 AFCON attracts little attention in the Cecafa region, no doubt because it is a sphere that ‘big nations’ i.e. Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, cannot offer meaningful competition and their envying Burundi as sole representatives being the hidden truth.

The Uganda team -- at the Azam Sports Complex in Chamazi, Dar es Salaam -- who won the Cecafa region qualifier for the 2019 U17 AFCON. With Tanzania, the present the Cecafa challenge

The Uganda team — at the Azam Sports Complex in Chamazi, Dar es Salaam — who won the Cecafa region qualifier for the 2019 U17 AFCON. With Tanzania, the present the Cecafa challenge

Burundi will be joining other Africans in Niamey, Niger as proven deservers of a place in the tournament. The U20 AFCON gives the rights to the four top placed teams in Niamey to take part in the prestigious 2019 U20 Fifa World Cup, Poland May 23- June 15.

Only Burundi (1995) and Ethiopia (2001) have ever represented the Cecafa region at the U20 Fifa World Cup. (Burundi results: 1-5 v Spain, 1-1 v Chile and 0-2 v Japan; Ethiopia, 1-2 v Ecuador, 1-3 v Costa Rica and 2-3 v The Netherlands).

In Niger, if Burundi can finish in the top two of a Group ‘B’ with Niger, South Africa and Nigeria, they will be in the World Cup for the second time before their neighbours who, perhaps erroneously, regard their game to be superior.

Ghana, the most successful African team at the U20 Fifa World Cup, having reached the Final in 2001 (lost 0-3 to Argentina) and 1993 (lost 1-2 to Brazil) will be in Group ‘B’ in Niger and hoping to return to the two-yearly world event since 2015. They will fight off with Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso.

Burundi (in green) play Ethiopia at Urukundo Stadium, Ngozi during the 2018 Cecafa U17 Championship

Burundi (in green) play Ethiopia at Urukundo Stadium, Ngozi during the 2018 Cecafa U17 Championship

The hosts, Niger, are the only team in this year’s U20 AFCON that have never qualified for the U20 Fifa World Cup. Over half of the CAF (African Football Confederations) countries, anyway, have never qualified for the world event.

Those who have taken part before in the Fifa U20 World Cup are (in order of first appearance): 1 Tunisia, 2 Morocco, 3 Cote d’Ivoire, 4 Algeria, 5 Guinea, 6 Egypt, 7 Cameroon, 8 Nigeria, 9 Togo, 10 Mali, 11 Ghana, 12 Burundi, 13 South Africa, 14 Angola, 15 Ethiopia, 16 Burkina Faso, 17 Benin, 18 Congo, 19 Zambia, 20 Gambia, 21 Senegal.

Meanwhile, with the Cecafa region’s lowly representation at the U20 AFCON, they will be trying to redeem themselves if Tanzania can successfully host the forthcoming U17 AFCON in Dar es Salaam (April 14-28).

The East and Central Africans will be looking to make the best of being represented by the hosts and Uganda. The pools are:

2019 U17 AFCON, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Group ‘A’:

Tanzania

Nigeria

Angola

Uganda

Group ‘B’:

Guinea

Cameroon

Morocco

Senegal

2019 U20 AFCON, Niger

Knockout stage:

Semi-finals:

13 Feb – Niamey:

1 Winner Gp ‘A’ v Runners-up Gp ‘B’

2 Winner Gp ‘B’ v Runners-up Gp ‘A’

Bronze medal:

17 Feb – Niamey:

Loser Semi 1 v Loser Semi 2

FINAL:

Winner Semi 1 v Winner Semi 2

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