BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
When the 13th edition of CAF cadet tournament, Africa U17 Cup of Nations kicks off in Tanzania on May 12 next year, it will be 29 years of professional football in Nigeria.
To mark the occasion, Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets will be making their ninth appearance, the highest by any country in the continent. That is a record as only Cameroon and Guinea come closest having featured in six previous finals.
Cameroon triumphed at the Central zone final 3-1 over Congo Republic on August 12 in a competition hosted by Equatorial Guinea, while Guinea are yet to play the final of the West A zone but have already made it along with the other finalists Senegal.
Since that zone produced the last continental champions (Mali), it was given the privilege to register two teams for the Tanzania finals.
In the Class of 2019, Uganda are the only one qualifying for the first time. The cadet Cranes won the Central-East zonal tournament on August 26. Tanzania, the hosts, were eliminated in the semi-finals but will still feature at the continental finals as hosts yet again.
Angola, the second team apart from Tanzania to book their place in next year’s finals, won the Southern zone tournament in Mauritius on July 29. Angola will be coming to the African party for the fourth time in Tanzania.
Senegal, who will challenge Guinea in the final of West A zone tournament on Tuesday, are heading for their second appearance at the finals, just as Morocco (champions on August 28 when the North zone tournament was concluded) and Tanzania.
Nigeria had been crowned African champions twice (2001 and 2007) and will be hungry to become the topmost winners of the tournament.
All the other two-time champions will not be in Tanzania. Ghana (champions in 1995 and 1999) were beaten by Nigeria on Saturday in the West Zone B final.
Mali (2015 and 2017 champions) got knocked out on penalties Sunday night by Guinea in the semi-final of West Zone A, while Gambia (winners in 2005 and 2009) could not qualify out of the group stage of the West Zone A tournament.
In Tanzania next year, Cameroon will be looking to win their second title having triumphed in 2003.
The trio of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Egypt who have won the championship once did not qualify this time.
Tanzania 2019 will be the final opportunity for the continent to determine the four teams to feature in the FIFA U17 World Cup to be hosted in Peru from October 5 to 27 of that year.
Nigeria have the record for the most win of the world cadet cup. Apart from the inaugural edition in 1985 when it was known as FIFA U16 World Championship, Nigeria have won four other titles in 1993, 2007 plus back-to-back in 2013 and 2015.
Brazil come next with three titles (1997, 1999 and 2003), while both Ghana and Mexico have two titles each.