Can the Black Stars B conquer W/A …as WAFU Cup kicks off tomorrow
As Ghana host the 2017 edition of the West Africa Football Union (WAFU) Cup of Nations between September 9 and 24, the B&FT Weekend takes a look at the chances of the participating countries.
The competition kicks tomorrow at the Nduom Sports Stadium in Elmina, with the Black Stars locking horns with The Gambia in the opening match. The Ghana team, which is coached by Maxwell Konadu, will be looking to bounce back from their recent elimination from the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers by Burkina Faso.
The teams taking part in the WAFU competition are made of only players plying their trade in their respective domestic leagues. This year’s is the first tournament of a 12-year partnership agreement between Fox Sports and WAFU.
With club football in West Africa crawling on its knees, no country really stands out as hot favourite. That said, Ivory Coast’s league and ASEC Mimosa’s frequent appearances at the knock-out stages in CAF club competitions gives them the urge as one of the teams to watch out for in the tournament.
Mali is another country to look out for. They have invested heavily in colts and league football over the last decade. The performance of Stade Malien in CAF club competitions in recent times also gives encouragement that they could progress far in the competition.
More importantly, both their under-17 and 20s have also dominated Africa and world football in recent times. Majority of these players are locally-based and will be relishing their chances at the WAFU Championship.
Smaller countries could also spring a surprise. Minnows like Togo, Benin, the Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia have majority of their national team squad locally-based, and come into the competition with vast experience playing AFCON and World Cup qualifiers.
Burkina Faso also showed a lot of promise in eliminating Ghana from the 2018 CHAN qualifiers, and will be hoping to win their first silverware at the senior level.
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, so putting together a team capable of lifting the 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 a good exercise for West African countries who would be participating in the 2018 African Nations Championship in Kenya.
Modalities for group stage games
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 region.
Zone A matches will be played at Nduom Sports Stadium in Elmina, 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. This is expected to provide exciting talents such as Ghana’s Winful Cobbinah, Nigerian midfielder Rabiu Ali, Burkinabe striker Mohamed Sylla, Mauritania’s Abdoulaye Gaye and Sekou Amadou Camara of Guinea a big platform to showcase their skills to the world.
The winner of the tournament is expected to take home US$100,000, with all other expenses to be taken care of by the organizers.