PROFILE | BY SWAPNANEEL PARASAR Follow @Swapyo on Twitter
India is all set to host the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, scheduled to kick off on 6th October. 24 countries from six confederations will be competing for one of the biggest honours in youth football with the matches being held in six cities across the country.
In this segment, we take a look at Ghana's U-17 team and guide you through their journey to the world cup, highlighting their achievements, key players, coach and much more.
Confederation: CAF (Africa)
Nicknames: Black Starlets
Coach: Samuel Paa Kwesi Fabin
PAST RECORDS AND LAURELS
Ghana ran the show in the 90s. The U-17 stars of the West African nation won twice (Italy (1991) and Ecuador (1995)), finishing runners-up as many times (Japan (1993) and Egypt (1997)) - all during four back-to-back editions of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
In the last World Cup of that decade in New Zealand, 1999, Ghana finished third and were subsequently pushed into oblivion until a first round exit in 2005. Some hopes were revived in 2007 where they ended as the fourth best team in the tournament but for another ten years, the Black Starlets were nowhere to be seen in the world's elite junior football championship.
Ghana U-17s have an astounding record in the World Cup finals. Out of a total 43 games played across all of their eight appearances, they have won 27 games, losing only 6, thus maintaining a win percentage of 74.42%.
The nation has been buzzing again with the coach Paa Kwesi Fabin vocal in his aim to bring back glory to Ghana as they set foot on the big stage again after a hiatus of ten years. They have been pitted in Group A alongside hosts India, USA and Colombia.
ROAD TO U-17 WORLD CUP
In the first four games Ghana played in the CAF U-17 African Cup of Nations held in Gabon in May, all were clean sheets. The semi-final against Niger had to be taken to penalties where the Black Starlets prevailed 6-5.
After thumping wins over Cameroon (4-0) and hosts Gabon (5-0), a 0-0 draw against Guinea halted the flow of goals for good.
Mamadou Samake's 22nd-minute goal in the final against Mali was enough for Ghana to succumb to a runners-up place in the podium, nonetheless passage to India in October was sealed.
PREPARATIONS AHEAD OF THE MEGA-EVENT
Ghana U-17 did not play a friendly match for months with anyone since their 0-1 AFCON final defeat to Mali on 28 May earlier this year. However, the team did start camping at the Ghanaman Soccer Centre of Excellence in Prampram from 3 July with 26 players on board.
A tour to Denmark in August was finalised by the Ghanaian FA for some exposure, however, most youngsters in the team were denied visas to Europe. That would have followed a quadrangular tournament in Spain involving Mexico and Iraq alongside the hosts but the whole plan had to be foiled.
On Wednesday 13 September, the squad embarked for a two-week camp in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Following a 2-0 defeat at the hands of fellow African hopefuls Mali, a 4-0 win against UAE was a perfect morale booster before they arrived in India to play their first game against Colombia in New Delhi on the opening day itself.
Samuel Paa Kwesi Fabin has been the guiding force behind Ghana U-17's resurrection into the world footballing fraternity after a decade in obscurity. After being accused of fielding an overage player in the lead up to the 2015 AFCON U-17 in Niger, which resulted in the country's ban from participation, Kwesi Fabin has risen to greater heights and how.
Boasting of a superior CV which includes stints at Heart of Lions, Asante Kotoko, Hearts of Oak and Inter Allies, the 58-year-old has promised to deliver the title at any cost. Only time will tell.
Eric Ayiah is the man which the Black Starlets pin their hopes on for any kind of success in the tournament. The striker peculiarly wears no. 6 as a tribute to Ghana's Independence Day (6 March) which coincidentally is also his birthday.
Captain of his side, Ayiah scored four goals in the first two games of the 2017 AFCON U-17. Winger Emmanuel Toku and striker Ibrahim Sulley will also be names to watch out for. Centre-back Faisal Osman has been ruled out of the World Cup after suffering an interior cruciate ligament injury.
Goalkeepers: Ibrahim Danlad (Kotoko), Michael Acquaye (WAFA), Kwame Aziz (Mandela Soccer Academy)
Defenders: Najeeb Yakubu (New Town Youth), Gideon Mensah (Right to Dream), Bismark Terry Owusu (Mandela Soccer Academy), Edmund Arko-Mensah (Wa All Stars), Abdul Razak Yusif(Koforidua Youth), Gideon Acquah (Bofoakwa Tano), Rashid Alhassan (Aduana Stars), John Otu (Dreams FC)
Midfielders: Isaac Gyamfi (New Life FC), Gabriel Leveh (Tema Youth), Ibrahim Sulley (New Life FC), Mohammed Kudus (Right to Dream), Emmanuel Toku (Cheetah FC), Mohammed Iddriss (Cheetah FC)
Strikers: Eric Ayiah (Charity Stars), Richard Danso (WAFA), Mohammed Aminu (WAFA), Ibrahim Sadiq (Right To Dream).