The 10th CAF U-17 Championship gets underway today in Morocco with the hosts taking on Gabon in a Group A match to be played at Complexe Sportif Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca.
The tournament's second match will take place at the same venue between Tunisia and Botswana. The group B games will kick off tomorrow in Marrakech with Congo and Ivory Coast opening proceedings at Grand Stade de Marrakech before Nigeria's Golden Eaglets engage their West Africa rivals, Ghana in the highly anticipated cracker of the tournament. The Eaglets will take on Cote d'Ivoire on April 17 and Congo-Brazzaville on April 20 in their last group phase match.
The Golden Eaglets are highly favoured to win the championship for the fourth time following their impressive build up to the tournament. The team which arrived Morocco on Wednesday ahead of the championship's kick off today had two trainings at the Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence in Doha, the capital of oil-rich gulf state of Qatar.
During their stay in Doha, the team won two quality friendly matches by beating Aspire's Under 18 team 7-1 in a one sided affair cynically described by a local fan as the clash between a Ferrari and Peugeot!
They equally gave good account of themselves by recording a 1-0 win over former Asian Champions, Al Sadd Sports Club.
Head coach, Manu Garba described the tour of Doha as delightful and successful, adding that the team is battle-ready for the continental cadet competition. "We are so grateful to the NFF for organising this training tour for us," Garba said in a valedictory speech on Aspires' Pitch 5.
"Coming here has given us the opportunity to prepare well for the forthcoming competition. We are ready even if they say we should start the championship today. We are focused about our objective to qualify for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in UAE as African champions and we want to come back to Aspire to prepare for the World Cup," he explained.
The Nigerian U-17 team has also won FIFA U-17 World Cup thrice in 1985, 1993 and 2007.
What is at stake in this tournament is not only the chance to replace Burkina Faso, which did not qualify to defend the title as the reigning African champions but also the four semi-finalists will get to represent the continent at the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be held in United Arab Emirates from 17 October to November 8, 2013.
Nigeria and Ghana have won the African titles each and only Gambia has matched that record but the former pair has a chance to increase their tally in Morocco. It is Nigeria and Ghana that have brought the FIFA U-17 World Cup titles to the continent with Nigeria having won three world titles and Ghana two time world champions. Not many are looking beyond these two as likely winners of the 2013 edition in Morocco but ruling out the other six countries may be out of place as previous tournaments have proved unpredictable.
Hosts Morocco will be keen to impress on home soil having recently beaten Niger 3-2 in a preparatory match. Ivory Coast will be hoping to have a say in the proceedings as they come into the tournament on the back of some good warm -up results. The baby Elephants have been holding training camps in Tunisia and has managed to beat their hosts 4-2 recently after playing draw in the first match.
For Botswana taking part in the finals for the third time, the mission will be to try and register a first win at the finals and then go ahead to build from there. Congo finished third two years ago when the finals was played in Rwanda and have set themselves a semi-final target. The boys from Brazzaville want another appearance at the FIFA World Cup and will have to battle Ivory Coast which they beat for third place in 2011 and Ghana and Nigeria in Group B.