Both second place finishers from their groups, first timers Central Africa Republic (CAR) and Gambia will clash in the final quarter final of the Total Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) at the Stade Olympique in Nouakchott on Friday.
CAR finished second in a tough Group B with four points. Their final day 2-1 victory over Tunisia within a minute early in the first half was enough to propel them to second spot and an automatic qualification to the last eight.
CAR had started their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Namibia while a 3-1 thrashing at the hands of table toppers Burkina Faso almost sent them packing from the tournament. But a final day resilience over Tunisia aided them back to life.
Gambia on the other hand, just like CAR revived themselves to qualify for the last eight after final group phase day heroics. The Young Scorpions had lost 1-0 to Morocco and drawn 1-1 with Tanzania and in their tie against a highly fancied Ghana, they rose from the dead to win 2-1 and earn a place in the knockout phases.
The Gambians are making their third appearance at the tournament and are looking at achieving their second podium finish, having won bronze in the 2007 edition. A win over CAR on Friday will put coach Mattar M'Boge's charges closer to achieving that feat.
CAR, playing their first ever continental tournament at the Under-20 stage, hope to continue their fairy tale run when they come back to the same ground from where they earned their qualification.
But one item on coach Sebastien Ngato's mind as they face Gambia is their defensive play. Among the teams in the quarters, CAR has conceded the highest number of goals having let in five in three matches. Overall, they are the third highest leaking defense after Tanzania and Mozambique who conceded eight on their way out of the tournament.
While Ngato has to sort out his back, M'Boge will have equal concerns with his front line. Gambia has scored three goals, an average of one goal per match. He will however lick his fingers coming up against a CAR defense that is yet to be tightened.
Players to watch:
CAR skipper Raphael Marc Yapende is a modern fullback any coach would wish on his side. Flying off on the left, Yapende has been crucial for CAR when it mattered most, including the second goal to earn them qualification against Tunisia.
His defensive and offensive attributes are expected to drive coach Ngato's team. Also vital to the team is midfielder Isaac Ngoma who has been the man pulling the strings at the heart of midfield for the Central Africans in their three matches.
On coach M'Boge's side, the man of the moment has been forward Kajally Drammeh. The diminutive forward has been a thorn for most of the defenses in Group C with his swift movement and passing range abilities.
He has created the chances to score and though he has only seen the back of the net once in the competition, his importance to the squad cannot be underplayed.
Striker Momodou Bojang has also proved vital for Gambia moving forward and will also be one of the players looked upon to deliver the goals and power Gambia to the semi-finals.