Starlets fired up for Niger

Ibrahim Sulley

Ibrahim Sulley

The biggest test yet for Ghana’s Black Starlets at the ongoing Africa Youth Championship – Gabon U-17 football championship may, perhaps, be today’s semi final clash against the Junior Menas of Niger.

The Junior Menas are motivated for the clash after securing a historic FIFA World Cup qualification.

India 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup is their biggest appearance on the international stage as far as association football is concerned and would not spare any moment on the Stade Port Gentil turf as they lock horns with Ghana’s Black Starlets in the semi-finals of the on-going U-17 Africa Cup of Nations.

Having surprised themselves by the World Cup breakthrough, the Menas, just like the Starlets, have their focus redirected and now have their eyes fixed on the ultimate trophy.

Buoyed by that feat, the Nigeriens are hoping to take another giant stride and book a place in the finals of the tournament but coming up against the tournament’s favourites, Ghana, gives them a second thought despite the confidence.

The Junior Menas set up a semi-final date with the Black Starlets after beating Tanzania 1-0 in their last group game on Sunday to finish second in Group B.

This was after they held Angola to a 2-2 draw encounter in their first match before capitulating to the defending champions, the Eagles of Mali 2-1 in their second group game.

The Black Starlets on the other hand came up tops in Group A after Saturday’s goalless draw with Guinea, which earned them seven points to lead the log after humbling Cameroon 4-0 and hosts Gabon 5-0 in their first two games.

Ghana, who returned to the championship after a four-year hiatus, are seeking to lay hands on the trophy for the third time in the tournament’s history and will be in no mood to renege on that dream.

Coincidentally, the Black Starlets played the Nigerien in a double-header during their preparations for the tournament in Ghana, defeating them 2-0 in both games.

Coach of the Junior Menas Ismaila Tiemoko then attributed their defeat in both games to the lack of rest after travelling by road to Ghana for the games.

Today’s game provides him a big opportunity to prove that double defeat was just a flash in the pan while writing another piece of history by being the first coach to send a Nigerien team to a World Cup finals.

Tiemoko told a pre-match press conference that he has his sights set on beating Ghana in the semi-final.

Admitting that the task against the Black Starlets is a very tough one, he noted that their defeats to the team prior to the tournament drew a great lesson for them and that will guide them hugely as they go into the game today.

He said that the Ghana side is talented and has a very good side but are on same level now, he believes they can grind the results against them.

“The Ghanaian side has great talents, we played with them and had a feel of them, they have their good and bad side and we would be hoping to exploit their bad side to make it to the finals.”

For Ghana coach, Samuel Paa Kwesi Fabin, who is grappling with an outbreak of malaria in his team ahead of this game, the hope of making the finals lies on a thin thread as the medical set up of the team race against time to get the key affected players ready for clash.

Trusted winger Edmund Ako-Mensah as well as deputy skipper and center back Faisal Osman together with Gideon Acquah, Abdul Razak Yusif and Isaac Antah are on the verge of missing today’s game if they fail a late fitness test to be performed this morning.

According to coach Fabin, the Nigerien are a physical side and we need a fully fit side to face them, my medical team is working round the clock to make sure the players are ready for the game and I believe they would be ready for this evening’s game.

The day’s other game will see the Eagles of Mali take on the young Syli Nationale of Guinea in Libreville for a place in the finals on Sunday.

By Raymond Ackumey

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