Congo

Congo made use of home advantage to book their place at a FIFA world finals for only the third time, finishing winners of the African youth championship in February. It was the fruit of massive toil by the country that had staked much prestige on the successful hosting of the event as well as the success of their juniors on the field of play. Employing French coach Eddie Hudanski at the start of 2005 allowed Congo to put the machinery together to achieve their objective and, in a rare display of consistency for African football, came storming through to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.

Congo's previous appearances at FIFA finals were at U-17 level at the first world championship in China in 1985 and again in Italy in 1991.

Qualifying
As hosts of the bi-annual African youth championship, Congo did not need to navigate the tricky preliminary phase, incorporated instead into the final eight-team field for the tournament hosted in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. The Congolese needed to finish in the top two of their opening round group to achieve their objective of qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup and started brightly after a nervous opening spell to beat Cote d'Ivoire 2-0 in their opening game at the Stade Massamba-Debat in the capital. Fabrice Nguessi Ondama, who would go on to be named the tournament's top player, scored both goals. But a last-minute goal allowed Gambia to beat the hosts in the second match, meaning Congo and Burkina Faso went into their final game both needing to win to progress to Canada. In the end, a penalty from Franchel Ibarra settled the clash in Congo's favour and handed them a ticket to Canada. Freed of the burden of qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Congo then went on to beat Zambia in their semi-final in Pointe Noire and Ibarra scored the only goal of the final against a heavily fancied Nigerian side.

Coach
Eddie Hudanski was handpicked to run the Congo's preparations for the African Youth Championship more than two years before the event. He was recommended after Congo's head of state Denis Sassou Nguesso had solicited the help of Auxerre's vice president Gerard Bourgoin. Hudanski had previously worked at the Kadji Sport Academy in Cameroon, where Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o started his formidable career, and in China for three years, gaining experience in the footballing 'third world'. Hudanski is also a former coach of French club Limoges Foot 97, where he was in charge from 1990 to 1997, and helped found the youth academy at Laval in his native country.

Star player
Fabrice Nguessi Ondama was named the best player of the African youth championship in Congo in January and February. His two goals in the opening game set Congo on their way and attested to the prowess he had shown in the Congolese championship the previous year in the colours of La Mancha. Ondama is now on the brink of a call-up to the full national side where Congo are hopeful of winning a place at the 2008 African Nations Cup finals in Ghana.

Record

  • Congo will make their debut appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada

  • In 1985 and 1991, Congo participated at the FIFA U-17 World Cups

  • In six matches at FIFA competitions, Congo have won only once and never gone past the first round
What they said...
"It is a sense of enormous satisfaction to qualify for the World U-20 Cup, something that this side deserves because they have worked so hard since the beginning of 2005 and have been suitably rewarded." coach Hudanski, after Congo won the African youth championship.