Almost exactly 16 years ago, Ghana caused a sensation at the
FIFA U-17 World Championship Italy 1991, when the Black Starlets
downed runaway favourites Spain 1-0 in the Final to claim the
trophy, stunning the footballing world. "I remember the
tournament extremely well. I was away at a Fortuna Dusseldorf
training camp in Austria and watched the games on TV," Anthony
Baffoe recalls with a broad smile.
The man capped 16 times by Ghana was placed in charge of international relations by the Ghanaian association in spring 2006. Baffoe also sits on the Organising Committee for the African Cup of Nations, to be staged by Ghana in 2008. During his spell in Germany, the 42-year-old turned out in he Bundesliga for FC Cologne and Fortuna Dusseldorf. He also appeared for French top-flight outfit Metz, the Hong Kong Golden Team, and Caracas FC, Venezuela's most successful club.
FIFA.com chatted exclusively with the Ghanaian expert about the forthcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea, the young Ghana team's chances, and potential shooting stars set to emerge from the west of Africa.
Ghana's golden 90s
"The team which won the 1991 U-17 World Cup featured a very strong generation, some of whom went on to achieve star status. Sammy Kuffour and Nii Lamptey are just two examples of the quality in the squad at the time," Baffoe remembers.
Four years later in Ecuador, one Stephen Appiah, now in Istanbul with Fenerbahce and captain of the senior Ghana side, graced a U-17 squad which again brought the world title back to Africa. Ghana also made the Final at the 1997 tournament in Egypt, but fell 2-1 to Brazil in a re-run of the 1995 showdown.
Sellas Tetteh, the current U-17 supremo, first featured on the Ghana youth training staff at New Zealand 1999. The Oceania-based event saw the emergence into the limelight of Michael Essien, now an established pro at Chelsea. Ghana finished third on that occasion.
The FIFA U-17 World Championship New Zealand 1999 was the last major outing on the global stage for a team in this age group from the West African nation.
The Black Starlets failed to qualify for Trinidad & Tobago 2001 and Finland 2003, finally recovering their poise to finish third at the CAF U-17 Championship Gambia 2005 and qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru. However, they were destined for an early exit from South America after drawing all three of their group matches and losing out to China PR and Costa Rica.
The team qualified for this year's FIFA U-17 World Cup, which begins on 18 August in Korea, with another third-place finish at the African U-17 Championship in Togo last March, courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in the decisive match.
Experienced coach handed reins
Former assistant and head coach Sellas Tetteh returned to the Ghanaian U-17 helm on 5 July this year, as the association turned to experience to restore former glories. Predecessor Fred Osam Duodu, in charge for the qualifying campaign, stepped down a week earlier.
"Sellas Tetteh is predestined to lead the U-17s at the World Cup in Korea. He's not only Claude Le Roy's assistant in the senior set-up, he's an experienced coach at club level with leading club Liberty Professionals," Anthony Baffoe told FIFA.com.
The fact that the 2002 generation failed to qualify for the African championship under Tetteh's leadership was no reason to doubt the choice, the former Ghana international insisted: "Even the biggest names in coaching have encountered failure at some point in their careers. Tetteh gained an enormous amount of experience and technical expertise at the World Cup in Germany."
Main target: Reach the last 16
Tetteh named his 21-strong squad for the global showdown in late July. Baffoe believes the party includes a clutch of outstanding individuals, but feels the real strength is the collective whole. "Francis Boadi, Richard Mpong, Ishmael Yartey and Paul Addo are extremely talented youngsters, but the focus is on the team rather than any individual this year," the ex-Bundesliga star explains.
Following the African championships, six new names have been added to the squad as Tetteh pursues a more attack-oriented policy than his predecessor. The players are all based at home in Ghana, with the solitary exception of Kelvin Owusu Bossmann of English Premier League club Reading.
The Ghana U-17 party arrived in Korea last week and have been running through their final preparations for the tournament since then. Tetteh and his charges previously completed a training camp in Japan.
The final proof of whether the meticulous preparations have borne fruit comes on 26 August with the final group match against Colombia. "Germany and the South Americans will be tough nuts to crack. The primary target for our U-17s is a place in the Round of 16. We'll have to achieve that before thinking any further ahead," concluded Baffoe, on the eve of the showpiece event in Korea.