Sports News of Thursday, 5 October 2017
The 1990s marked a golden era where Ghana’s U-17 national team is concerned. The Black Starlets were the undoubtedly a dominant force, reaching the final at four of the decade’s five FIFA U-17 World Cups, including lifting the trophy at Italy 1991 and Ecuador 1995. As if that were not enough, the odd one out was New Zealand 1999 and they also finished on the podium there.
A team headed by several players who would go on to star in Europe – namely Michael Essien, later of Chelsea and Real Madrid; Stephen Appiah, who subsequently played for Juventus; and Bayern Munich defensive legend Samuel Osei Kuffour – claimed the bronze medal on that occasion.
However, it has been a different story since the turn of the century. Besides a brief revival in 2007, when they reached the semi-finals, the Ghanaians have consistently failed to hit the heights at this level, to the extent that they have only graced two of the last seven installments of the U-17 World Cup.
The two-time champions are back in the mix this time round, though, and FIFA.com spoke to their coach, Paa Kwesi Fabin, to look ahead to this October’s tournament. He made it clear that he and his players are eager to rekindle the glory days: “In India, we’ll be out to show we’re the best.”
An eagerly awaited return
Following a ten-year absence, the Black Starlets booked their ticket to the U-17 global extravaganza through their performances at this year’s CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations.
Having advanced to the continental competition courtesy of 6-5 and 3-1 aggregate wins over Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire in the second and third qualifying rounds respectively, they shone at the showpiece, dishing out consecutive drubbings of Cameroon (4-0) and hosts Gabon (5-0) to seal their spot at the world finals.
This was Kwesi Fabin’s verdict on his side’s passage to India: “We put in a big effort to get to the U-17 World Cup again. Qualifying was very tough, but our hard work paid off and we achieved our goal.”
To prepare for their long-awaited return to the big time, the Ghanaians held a training camp in the United Arab Emirates, where they contested two warm-up friendlies. Following a disappointing 2-0 loss to Mali, who also beat them in the U-17 AFCON final, they bounced back in style by crushing UAE 4-0. “My team is in good shape and we’re hopeful that our great preparations will stand the players in good stead,” said the coach.
Kwesi Fabin, who has been at the helm since 2011, noted that his team’s journey in recent years has been “littered with hurdles” and backed his charges to continue rising to the challenges ahead: “The time has come for us to reap the benefits of everything we’ve done so far.”
Speaking of challenges, Ghana will certainly face a formidable one in order to progress to the knockout rounds in India, having been drawn against Colombia, USA and the hosts. “We’ve been handed a very tough group,” said the tactician. “We’re up against the sort of sides who need no introduction, but we’re ready.”
It is always difficult to predict how a team will fare after such an extended absence from a competition, but Kwesi Fabin signed off on a bullish note: “Our aim is to get to the final and win it.”