Football throws up its fair share of overnight success stories and the remarkable tale of Congo's U-20 side is a case in point. In the space of a little over two years, coach Eddie Hudanski has somehow managed to create a unit capable of holding its own on the international scene.
"I've been in charge of the team since May 2005, since
the creation of the National Football Training Centre (CNFF),"
says the Frenchman, acknowledging the vital role of the new
facility, which was set up with one goal in mind: to help build a
group of players capable of performing well at the 2007 CAF African
In getting things off the ground so quickly and forming the structure of the national side, the CNFF has been indebted to French club AJ Auxerre for their invaluable assistance and funding. The Little Red Devils coach spent ten long months scouring the country for youngsters capable of making the grade. So successful was he that 80 per cent of the current team have graduated from the Centre, with the rest of the squad hailing from the clubs of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire.
Even with French assistance, Hudanski's task has not been easy. "The players only started at the Centre when they were 18," explains the coach, who had his work cut out teaching his new charges the basics and getting them fit. Although time was against him, the French trainer ultimately achieved his miracle, not only steering Congo to a Canada 2007 qualification spot at the African Youth Championship, but also overseeing the defeat of regional superpower Nigeria in the final. As reward for Congo's first ever triumph in the competition, six of the side that turned out in the final have now signed contracts with the French Ligue 1 outfit.
Coming to the boil nicely
Thanks to their unexpected success in February, the Congolese now have the chance to test themselves against the best at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 and to develop even further.
Hugely impressed by the professionalism and self-sacrifice of his youngsters, Hudanski is one man who is not taken aback by Congo's debut appearance in the competition. "My players take things seriously and learn quickly," he says. "We've been working together since May 2005 and we've got a very well grooved unit. For the last two years we've been testing ourselves against the likes of Morocco, South Africa and Egypt so it doesn't surprise me to see Congo here in the tournament for the very first time."
Before jetting off for Canada, the high-achieving Congolese tuned up with tournaments in South America, France and Czech Republic. And with three wins over Brazilian sides and a creditable goalless draw against the Czechs, the African newcomers look to be in good shape for the main event.
Hudanski is confident they can make the grade against Group A opponents Chile, hosts Canada and Austria. "We've got quality, power, a burning will to win and we like to take the initiative," said Hudanski, who is hopeful his side can reach their goal of making the next round.
"We're not overawed by anyone and I reckon we've got a 25 per cent chance of going through." And who knows? If fortune continues to favour the Little Red Devils, their tails could well be up over the next few weeks.