CAF U-20 Top 3 prospects

It caused nary a ripple in the footballing world, but the under-20 version of the African Cup of Nations had been going on for the past three weeks in Algeria, culminating in a win for the young Pharaohs of Egypt on Saturday. But among the sparse crowds that filed into the stadia in Oran, Algeria to watch the future African stars strut their stuff were hawk-eyed scouts from clubs across Europe looking to bolster their ranks with promising talent. If the mature performances put in by the competing teams were anything to go by, Africa will contribute handsomely to the goings-on between clubs come summer. Here are some of the names that are bound to cause ripples in the world’s top leagues in the near future as well as in the upcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup. 

Among the players that caught the eye were tireless Egyptian midfielder Saleh Gomaa. The 19-year old has been the dependable engine of his team throughout the tournament, picking the ball from defence and building attacks like a classic number 10. He further proved his value to the Egyptian cause by terrorising defences and notching two goals the course of the tournament. Gomaa crucially kept things ticking in the middle of the park during a pulsating final against Ghana. The Pharaohs managed to throw the reins on a rampant Ghana, ensuring the match went to penalties. The playmaker also did his part and dispatched his spot-kick to help Egypt to a fourth CAF under-20 title. This value didn’t go unrecognised; the youngster from ENPPI in the Egyptian premier league was named the Man of the Tournament and found a place in the tourney’s best XII.

Donning the number 10 jersey for the opposing team in that same final was the diminutive Clifford Aboagye. Despite his short stature, the midfielder imposed himself on the game, beating the taller Egyptians to the ball on several occasions and harrying them off it. He displayed the sure-footedness and agility that must have convinced the Udinese scouts to take a chance on him. Indeed he inspired his teammates to a display that even the Egyptian coach Rabie Yassine admitted was better than that of own charges. In spite of the way the artificial turf of the Ahmed Zabana Stadium made the ball bob and bounce, Aboagye, alongside Moses Odjer and Ebenezer Ofori, were able to produce incisive passing worthy of Europe’s top leagues. The attacking midfielder was instrumental in ensuring the Black Satellites retained the ball and also created chances in the final third. And were it not for the massive height advantage enjoyed by the Egyptian defenders, the trophy might be in a cabinet in Accra.        

Another diamond-in-the-rough that glittered under the sunny Algerian sky was Mali’s fleet-footed winger Tiekoro Keita. The 19-year old, currently a member of Guingamp’s youth team, provided a creative outlet for a team that was more noted for its physical approach to games. His ability to ghost past players into dangerous areas in particular drew cheers from those watching in the stands. However, like many an unrefined winger in the past, he displayed a tendency to overdo it, costing his team precious possession in the process. He however starred in a late revival as the Eaglets of Mali threatened to upset Nigeria’s march to third place. But his 87th minute goal proved to be a mere consolation as Mali missed out on even a consolation medal. Nevertheless, in recognition of his undeniable talent and potential, Tiekoro was named as a substitute in the Orange CAF U-20 best XII.

Phil Kimonge