It’s not every day that this blog has something on youth football documented. Most of you I’m sure know about the Africa Youth Championship that has been taking place in Algeria starting the 16th of March and will be culminating on the 30thof the same month.
A few of us though have been following this year’s tournament. I’m one of those who have been even though as is tradition- we never documented any pre-tourney preview- something we vehemently apologize for.
A little history on the tournament though is that; between 1979 and 1989, the African representatives were determined purely on a home and away qualifying basis without a final tournament, with the African champions determined through the same qualification- Something that obviously never served the purpose really well. Since 1991though there has been a qualifying stage followed by a final tournament played by 8 teams in a chosen country.
In this year the 8 teams happened to be Defending Champions Nigeria, Algeria, Benin, Congo, Ghana, Mali and Gabon.
So many players who’ve played in this tourney have gone on to make some successful careers not just in Africa but even in Europe. Surely I wouldn’t mention all of them- the list would be endless, but to imagine players like Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Benni McCarthy(Orlando Pirates). Emad Moteab(Al Ahly) just to mention a few, played in this tourney not so long ago is a clear pointer of its impact to the development of the game in Africa.
This year in its 19th edition; it’s clear the lads Africa is churning are sure headed for the greatest of levels. It’s not just the physical levels or the fast paced game- it’s the overall development of every aspect of play from an African perspective.
The fact that African coaches manage all the teams with the exception of two is a clear indicator that even the federations back home are fast gaining confidence in the coaches Africa is producing.
Africa has long been known for not exposing talent at an early age and most players had to go to Europe and either cheat their age to play for a little longer or go at their prime and come back soon as their sunset’s approached. Today, Africa boasts of a rich array of talent, talent that cannot just be exported but can even be found in our local leagues.
Statistics always seem to fascinate me and I’m sure this too will fascinate you the reader. Whereas in 2005 where the AYC had an average goal fest of 2.875 per match, the gap has further reduced over the years to 2.18 in 2007, 2.69 in 2009 which is regarded as a sharp increase, but in 2009 it further dropped to 2.69, then even further to 2.13 in 2011 and as it stands now, it’s 1.92 with two matches to go. Meaning around 7 goals have to be scored in the final two matches which most of the people who’ve watched this tourney might not really want to believe can happen.
What does this show? I personally would view it as the gap fast closing and teams getting to know each other much better. Any football match is squarely viewed on the score board even without further looking at the aspects of play. The difference in the team’s aspect of play and execution might not be exactly viewed in one match but I think a tournament best brings out all aspects of play in a team as it’s not just one match but a minimum of three before a team gets knocked out.
Therefore can we be then right to say- the African game is getting to a point where not just in the senior levels of the game is the gap reducing but even at the Junior levels of the same. Most of these players of cause originate from countries with sound youth development structures and even if not- then the clubs that are concerned do a good job?
I always believe, as a player- there are some things if not taught at a certain level of the game might be the greatest elements that separate the average in one and the extra in another. Simple aspects of the game like making a perfect back pass, shielding the ball away from a player are things that are sometimes done under lots of pressure and tournaments like this are the perfect avenue for bringing out the best in a player’s game.
Some strikers might have been guilty for missing even the simplest of tap-ins, headers and even spot-kicks but there are those too who’ve been able to dazzle us with their free-kick taking skills, ball holding abilities, sleek passing and even some perfect interceptions and tackles.
I leave it there for now Africa. It’s our time to arise and show the world what we are made of. Just like they say in Africa, ‘’ the wind does not break a tree that can bend’’ It’s our time to nurture these talents and make them the best in the world while they’re still young.
The four teams that made it to the Semi’s get an automatic qualification ticket to take part in the world 2013 FIFA U20 World Cup. These teams are; Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana and Mali.
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