WAFU 2017: all you need to know about West Africa’s tourney
The 2017 edition of the West Africa Football Union (WAFU) Nations Cup will be held in Ghana from 9 to 24 September, 2017, at the Cape Coast and Takoradi stadiums.
The tournament will feature all 16 teams from the sub-region, put into two groups made of eight teams each. The matches have been split into the two zones operational in the WAFU area.
Ghana’s Black Stars Team B, made up of home-based players, will face The Gambia in the first round of the 2017 WAFU tournament.
Zone A matches will be played in Takoradi, where games will include Ghana vs The Gambia, Nigeria vs Sierra Leone, Mali vs Mauritania and Guinea vs Guinea-Bissau.
Zone B games, to be held at the Cape Coast Stadium, will see Senegal face Liberia, Burkina Faso vs Niger, Cote d’Ivoire vs Togo and Benin against the Cape Verde.
Matches at the zonal level will follow the format for knock-out games, and the winners of each tie will progress to the next stage. This stage will comprise of two groups of four teams, implying that the eight teams to progress from the two zones form the two groups.
With eight teams (which won their first-round matches) forming two groups after the first knockout round (Zonal matches), the top two teams in each group will advance to the semi-final stage of the tournament.
The competition is sponsored by United States Sports media giant Fox Sports, which has signed a twelve-year deal with WAFU. The launch of this year’s edition came off last week in Accra, with the winner expected to take home US$100,000.
With Fox Sports on board, there will be so much at stake, as the games will be available to a global audience.
From a development perspective, the tournament is to enable participating nations built solid national teams as back up to the main national sides as well as for next year's Championship of African nations (CHAN).
According to Black Stars Assistant Coach, Ibrahim Tanko, the WAFU tournament provides a platform for locally based players to justify their inclusion into the main Black Stars, hence the need to seize the chance when the WAFU tournament kicks off next month.
"I think this is an opportunity for the Local players to show the Black Stars coach they can also play for the senior national team," he said.
Who will win?
The teams taking part in the WAFU competition are generally made of players plying their trade in their respective domestic leagues.
With club football in West Africa crawling on its knees, no country really stands out as hot favourites. Literally, there is no properly organised football league among the 16-member countries taking part in the WAFU tournament; it is therefore a little wonder that, club competitions on the continent are dominated by Northern and Southern African teams and quite recently teams from Eastern Africa.
Currently, there is no club from the 16-WAFU member-countries in CAF’s top 10 clubs in Africa, nor are any of their respective leagues part of the top leagues on the continent.
With all that said, Ivory Coast’s league and ASEC Mimosa’s frequent appearances at the knock-out stages in CAF club competitions give them the urge as tournament’s favourites.
Mali is another country to look out for when the tournament kicks in a month’s time. They have invested heavily in colts and league football over the decade and the performance of Stade Malien in recent times gives encouragement.
Both their under-17 and 20 have also dominated Africa and world football in recent times. Majority of them played locally and will be relishing their chances at the WAFU Championship.
The smaller countries could also spring a surprise. Minnows like Togo, Benin, Sierra Leone and Liberia have majority of their national team squad locally-based, so they come into this competition with vast experience playing AFCON and World Cup qualifiers.
Two other countries that could also take the competition by storm are Ghana and Nigeria. Although the latter’s domestic league is in dire financial distress, Nigeria’s pedigree as a football power house in the sub-region will always make them favourites.
Ghana on the other hand, have an advantage by virtue of being hosts. Added to that, the ongoing Ghana Premier League season has showed that the country’s league is still very vibrant and putting together a team capable of lifting the upcoming WAFU tournament shouldn't be far-fetched. The Black Stars are also the defending champions, after winning the 2013 edition.
On a whole, the competition would be good exercise for West African countries towards the 2018 African Nations Championship in Kenya.
Prize money (US Dollars)
Four losing semi-finalists
Four second round finishers