February 15 – Mali and Senegal will dispute Africa’s U-20 crown on Sunday in a showdown that is a repeat of their Group B curtain raiser. Both finalists, alongside Senegal and South Africa, have qualified for the U-20 World Cup in Poland this summer.
The Malians defeated Nigeria on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the semi-finals to secure a spot in the final. Mali have never won the tournament, but were victorious two years ago at the U-17 Afcon. That generation also went on to reach the last four of the U-17 World Cup. The Senegalese toppled South Africa 1-0 in the last four to advance after an own goal from South Africa defender Givemore Khupe with 20 minutes left to play.
The final will be a repeat of the two team’s Group B opening game. At the start of the tournament in Niger Senegal prevailed 2-0, but their coach Youssouph Dabo is adamant that the final will be a different story all together. “Facing the Mali be a different match because it is a final,” said Dabo. “We beat them in the first game but I said it after that game that they can go far, so I am not surprised to see them in the final.”
South Africa’s coach Thabo Senong is at his third Under-20 Nations Cup finals and the experienced coach already has an eye on the main tournament in Poland this summer after his side failed to progress against Senegal. “As far as the World Cup is concerned I can say that we have enough time to prepare for it,” said Senong. “Playing against Nigeria is another opportunity for us to face opponents of another calibre and be the start of our preparation for the world. We will do our best since we play every game to win it.”
South Africa and the three other semi-finalists all book a berth for Poland. Four years ago, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal represented the continent at the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. This time Ghana miss out after they finished third in Group B behind Senegal and Mali.
Earlier this week Brazil, the 2015 runners up, also failed to qualify for the finals after finishing in penultimate spot in the hexagonal of the U-20 South American Championship. It is the third time in four editions that the Brazilians will feature at the World Cup. The tournament kicks off on May 23. The final will be played on June 15 in Lodz.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1558477960labto1558477960ofdlr1558477960owedi1558477960sni@o1558477960fni1558477960