The seventh edition of the CAF Africa U-17 Championship could hardly have gone better for host nation Togo. The Young Sparrowhawks achieved two major objectives by going all the way to the Final and booking a place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time in their history.
Made up of players from four of the country's academies (Sporting Club, Delta, Academie E and Planete Foot), this richly talented team boasts a solid defence, great physical strength and superb technical skills. On the downside, Togo will need to address their goalscoring problems and the lack of naturally left-footed players if they are to make an impression in Korea, although, faithful to the spirit of Baron de Coubertin, they are happy just to be taking part.
As the hosts of the recent U-17 Africa Cup of Nations, Togo qualified automatically for the finals.
Samer Abraw's young hopefuls got off to the best of starts with a shock 2-0 defeat of title candidates South Africa, thanks to second-half goals from Abraw Camaldine and Atakora Lalawele. Their joy was short-lived, however, as Tunisia swept to a 3-0 win in their next game.
Going into the final round of group games Togo lay second on three points, just ahead of the South Africans on goal difference. A last-minute goal against the Young Panthers of Gabon saw them take top spot in Group A and book both a semi-final place and a ticket to Korea 2007, sparking joyous celebrations in the streets of Lome.
After reaching the Final following a 2-1 stoppage-time win over Ghana, Togo finally succumbed to the might of red-hot favourites Nigeria, but not without putting up a brave fight. The hosts held their own in a goalless 90 minutes before the Golden Eaglets silenced the massed ranks of Sparrowhawks fans with a heartbreaking extra-time winner.
Player to watch
Star man Abraw Camaldine's father also happens to be the side's coach, not that that has anything to do with his presence in the squad. With his dependability and consummate finishing skills, this rangy yet speedy striker has earned the admiration of the scouts monitoring his progress. A technically gifted player, he can use his physique to good effect against his markers, qualities that have led to advances from Belgium's Anderlecht. "I'll be going there soon for three months' training," explains the young sharpshooter. Were he to impress on Korean soil come August, his stock would no doubt rise still further.
Samer Abraw is the first Togolese coach to guide the country's youth team to the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Abraw trained in Germany at the University of Leipzig, where he was awarded a level-three certificate, and after coaching in the Togolese top flight for seven years, he became assistant coach with the Olympic and junior teams. Within a year he was handed the U-17 job, a post he holds in conjunction with a seat on the African Football Confederation's coaching committee.
What they say ...
"We've achieved our goal. We're going to Korea to find things out, see how it's done and then work on what we've learned when we get back. We hope to win one game at least. " (Togo coach Samer Abraw)
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