The African U-20 Championship in Algeria started with two major surprises as pre-tournament favourites Ghana and Nigeria slumped to defeats in their opening group matches. But by the end of the tournament 'order' had been restored as both teams are amongst the four to represent the continent at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. They will be joined by champions Egypt and Mali, who finished fourth after being beaten by Nigeria in the play-off. FIFA.com rounds up the action from the competition, which took place in the cities of Oran and Ain Temouchent.
Egypt won their fourth African title by beating Ghana 5-4 on penalties in the final which had ended 1-1 after extra time. The Young Pharaohs looked strong in all five games and were the only side not to lose a match. Marshalled by senior Egyptian international Ramy Rabia, the defence conceded just two goals throughout the tournament, with the Al-Ahly player recovering from an injury scare to play his part in the final. Rabia missed his side's first penalty, but goalkeeper Mossad Awad pulled off a good stop to keep them in the hunt, and when Michael Anaba missed Ghana's sixth spot-kick Hossam Ghaly coolly converted to give his side victory.
Coach Rabie Yassin, who had some problems ensuring that all his players were released by their clubs for the championship, will presumably have no such issue ahead of the global finals, where Egypt will face Chile, England and Iraq. He praised his team after their victory in the final. "I'm pleased with my boys led by captain Ramy. They have played some lovely football throughout this tournament, and they thoroughly deserve to win the African Youth Cup," he said, adding: "So much hard work and long hours have gone into this team, and it is fantastic to get the results we got."
Ghana's luck ran out in the final after they beat Mali on penalties in the last four. Looking for a fourth African title, the west Africans lost out in the shoot-out against the side that had beaten them in their first group match as well. Sellas Tetteh, who was hoping to become the first coach to win the African championship twice - having led the Black Satellites to the African and World titles in 2009 - said that the standard displayed in Algeria had been very high. “It was a good display of football and a wonderful advertisement of African football." Tetteh's side will face formidable opposition in Turkey, after being drawn into a group with Spain, France and the USA.
Defending champions Nigeria were stunned by Mali in their opening game but came back strongly to beat Gabon and the DR Congo before losing to Egypt in the semi-finals. The Flying Eagles coach John Obuh has already said that he would bring in fresh players for the finals in Turkey, with Standard Liege striker Imoh Ezekiel looking likely to getting the nod. The coach shared the fans' disappointment after the tournament, but he found some solace in finishing third. "We had to do everything to take something back home. This is our gold after we failed to reach the final,” he said.
For Mali the fourth place finish ensured that they achieved their goal of qualifying for their fifth U-20 World Cup finals. They looked strong in their two opening group games, but disappointed in their third as they were beaten by Gabon. The better side in the semi-final against Ghana, they were unfortunate to lose on penalties. Guingamp striker Tiecoro Keita and Bastia's Abdoulaye Keita are two of the players to watch in Moussa Keita's side. The coach said that even though he had wanted to win the tournament, he was satisfied as they had qualified for the World Cup. "I believe that Africa will be well represented by Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and Mali in Turkey."
The other pretenders
The four other sides involved in the competition - Gabon, Congo DR, Benin and the hosts Algeria - found the going tough as they managed just one victory between them. Gabon beat the already-qualified Mali in their final group B game 2-0 but were denied a place in the semi-finals by Nigeria's 3-1 victory against DR Congo.
In Group A, neither Benin nor Algeria managed to score a goal as they lost both matches after playing to a goalless draw against each other in their opening game. This was particularly disappointing for Algeria, who won the competition in 1979 and finished third three times in the 1980s and were hoping to do well in front of their home crowd.
Ones to watch
Not surprisingly, Egypt dominated the team of the tournament, with goalkeeper Awad, Rabia, Saleh Gomaa and Mahmoud Kahraba picked. ENPPI midfielder Gomaa, who has already established himself in Bob Bradley's senior Pharaohs side, was given the Player of the tournament award. Abdul Jaleel Ajagun (2) and Aminu Umar (4) impressed as they scored all six goals for the Flying Eagles scored during the tournament, with Umar top scoring.
Other players who looked impressive were Ghana captain Lawrence Lartey and his team-mates Derrick Mensah and Ebenezer Assifuah. Of the teams that were knocked out in the group stages, Zinedine Ferhat (Algeria), Didier Ndong Ibrahim (Gabon), Emomo Ngoy (DR Congo) and David Djigla (Benin) grabbed their share of attention.