Ghana’s dream of a second successive African Under 20 Championship final appearance faces a major test when they face six-time champions Nigeria in the semi finals this evening.
The Satellites narrowly missed out on the trophy after losing on penalties to Egypt two years ago in Algeria but they must now overcome a hurdle in arch rivals Nigeria if they are to make a dream return to the finals on Sunday.
The Flying Eagles have emerged as one of the teams to beat in the tournament so far after emerging as winners of Group A but Coach Sellas Tetteh is confident his side can beat them to advance.
“By the grace of God, I will want to qualify for the finals but we are aware of the challenge,” Sellas told www.ghanafa.org last night.
“I know if we have to qualify, then we have to work very, very hard. It’s not going to be an easy route at all because I know the Nigerians are good and they are hell bent on trying to win something at the youth level.
“They have not won for a pretty long time and they’ve been struggling to do that. They believe that we are a team that is on their way and will do everything best and we also expecting to get them out of our ways so we will see how it goes.”
Sellas has given an honest assessment of the Nigerian side throughout the build up to the match and has showered praises on the Flying Eagles. He however, insists once the two sides take to the field, the statistics won’t count and the side with the best mental focus will carry the day.
“We had the opportunity to play two times with them in a friendly encounter and we saw them very well. And during this tournament, they have shown clearly that they are a high scoring side,” Sellas praised the Nigerians.
“Beside that too, they have almost seven of their players from the under 17 World Cup winning team so definitely they have cohesion and jelling in the team and at the moment they are unbeaten in the tournament and that tells you that they are strong opponents.
“But matches between the two of us, statistics don’t count. It takes mental toughness, mental alertness, and mental readiness to play each other and we all know the problems on the ground and we are going to work towards that.”
Although the Flying Eagles are the most successful side in the history of the African Under 20 Championship with six trophies, they have often played second fiddle to the Black Satellites in matches between the two sides.
Today’s semi final will be the fifth meeting between the two countries in the African Under 20 Championship and Ghana have beaten Nigeria three times including a 1:0 victory in the 1999 finals to win the trophy.
Nigeria’s only victory over Ghana in the four previous matches was a 1:0 victory in the group stage in the 2011 edition of the competition.
As Sellas has said, today’s match won’t be about statistics but about mental toughness. And in Sellas’ own words, his players are “mentally prepared” to overcome the Nigerian challenge.
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