National Under -17 soccer team, Serengeti Boys head coach Bakari Shime is optimistic that the team will put a stunning show in the 12th edition of the Africa Youth Cup (AYC) to be staged from May 14 to 28 in Gabon.
Shime alias 'Black Wizard' said yesterday from Yaoundé, Cameroon where the team has pitched its camp for final preparations before heading to Libreville for the showdown. He said the Under-17 players who are making their debut in the finals, have transformed a lot following good and conducive training camps they pitched in Morocco and Cameroon.
"We are now ready to face any challenge ahead," he said, adding that they are looking forward to stun title holders' Mali in the opening game scheduled for May 15. "We know the importance of winning our opening match, and we are ready to battle it out against experienced Mali.
We believe victory in our first match will put us in a good position to perform well in the following matches and subsequently proceed into the next stage," he disclosed. Serengeti Boys pooled in group B will kick off their campaign against Mali who were last Friday cleared to compete after FIFA announced the lifting of the suspension of the Mali Football Federation (FEMAFOOT).
The lift cleared all doubts on the participation of the Mali U-17 team at the impending finals.Serengeti Boys, who replaced Congo- Brazzaville after the latter was disqualified on technical reasons after failing to subject one of their players for an MRI test following a protest by the former are pitched in group B alongside Mali, Angola and Niger which will play in the capital of Gabon Libreville.
Initially, group B matches were scheduled to be played in Port Gentil but the base has now been shifted from Port Gentil in the capital Libreville, while group A which comprise Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea and host Gabon shifts to Port Gentil.
The hosts Gabon will open the tournament against Guinea on May 14 and later on the day Cameroon will face Ghana in group A matches whereas group matches will be played on the second day with Tanzania facing Mali and Angola playing against Niger.
Currently, Serengeti Boys have set camp in Cameroon for their final tune up for the finals. And yesterday they were due to play their second friendly match against the host after registering a 1-0 win in the first build up encounter last Sunday.
The team is expected to fly out to Gabon next weekend ready for their debut campaign at the continental showpiece. Serengeti Boys arrived in Yaounde on the back of 2-1 double wins against host Gabon and ensured they did their confidence no harm with yet another morale-boosting win against Cameroon.
The Boys have played a total of six strength-testing games since launching official training camp in preparation for the upcoming AYC finals.
They twice beat Burundi 3-0 and 2-0 on March 30 and April 1, in matches played at the Kaitaba Stadium in Bukoba.
The 2017 Africa U-17 Cup of Nations is a biennial international youth football tournament organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for players aged 17 and below and the event was originally set to be staged in Madagascar from April 2 to 16, however, the CAF Executive Committee decided on 12 January this year to withdraw the hosting rights from Madagascar following the reports of the CAF inspection teams.
And Gabon was selected as the new hosts for the finals where the group winners and runners-up advance to the semi-finals and qualify for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup to be staged in India.