The Black Starlets of Ghana make a return to the prestigious FIFA U17 World Cup after a decade’s absence and are poised to make their presence valuable at the tournament.
The two times world champions - 1991 and 1995, have struggled to make an appearance at the mundial after finishing 4th at the 2007 event held in South Korea.
Ghana’s pedigree at the U17 World Cup can’t be underestimated despite missing out for ten years following a record 9 times of appearing at the finals of the tournament on several occasions as well as winning it twice.
The West Africans have also been champions of Africa in 1995 and 1999 as well as producing some of the world’s great footballers from the U17 level including Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien, Samuel Osei Kuffour, Stephen Appiah and many others.
|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 instalments of the U-17 World Cup, a FIFA statement said here.
Talking to FIFA.com, Paa Kwesi Fabi, coach of two-time champions Ghana, 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,'' he expressed the confidence.
Following a ten-year absence, the team 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 Cte 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, it said.
"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,'' Mr Kwesi Fabin said on his side's passage to India.
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 are in good shape and we're hopeful that our great preparations will stand the players in good stead," said the coach.
Mr Fabin, who has been at the helm since 2011, noted that his and 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 face a formidable one to progress to the knockout rounds in India, having been drawn against Colombia, US 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 Fabin signed off on a bullish note: "Our aim is to get to the final and win it."