Hands up for the U17 Total AFCON!
They are young, talented, and ambitious. As from tomorrow, the greatest youth players from the eight qualified countries will face each other during the U17 Total AFCON, which is held in Gabon. Between popular pressure, hard-fought matches and personal ambitions, one thing is certain: you will get your dose of emotions. – CG
They have been waiting for this opportunity for the last two years, feeling impatient, and sometimes anxious. At last, the moment has come. For the young talents of the continent, the U17 Total AFCON is the unmissable event, the first international tournament of their careers, which will then put them in the spotlights, or the shadows. A goal, a missed opportunity, a noticed performance, and their lives could change, as they are watched by scouts from all around the world, who came to see the inspirations of the designated heirs of prestigious African players, such as Samuel Kuffour, Nwankwo Kanu or Seydou Keita, three of the most famous players for who everything started at this level, in this secretive competition, which crowns the future wonder kids and destroys the majority’s dreams of greatness.
You must go to Africa, feel the atmosphere of the dry and dusty streets, listen to the drivers speak about football endlessly in their dented cabs, and witness the global enthusiasm of the nights of victory to understand what such an event means around here. Often snubbed in Europe, the youth tournaments on the African continent gather an audience of passionate fans, and are followed by an ever-growing number of spectators. Firstly, because these African gems often leave the continent very early, and that every occasion of admiring them is a privilege that fans must enjoy. Then, because a continental title is always a source of pride, whatever the age category is. In the medal count, Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia take place on the podium, with two victories each, in eleven editions. The trio could soon become a quartet if Mali, the current-title holder, managed to win it for a second time in a row. After qualifying at the very last minute following DR Congo’s disqualification, Tanzania will try to defy the odds, along with Niger, Guinea, Cameroon, Angola and Gabon.
But make no mistake. Behind the sporting ambitions, patriotic hopes, and national anthems, the U17 Total AFCON remains the stage where old personal ambitions shine. Having become, due to the circumstances, the shortest way to change lives, football concentrates all these young sportsmen’s ambitions, who have nothing but dreams to hold on to. If their strides appear to be ethereal on the burnt grass, these kids bear the weight of huge responsibilities on their shoulders, which are often the hopes of entire families. On the pitch, you don’t see twenty-two children facing each other, but true warriors, putting everything in their fight for victory. This is why the U17 Total AFCON is a concentrated dose of pure emotion. Often dramatic, the matches often result in hard-fought battles, with aggressive tackles and never-ending penalty shootouts, which are capable of satisfying fans who are craving for nail-biting suspense.
One thing remains certain: from May 14th to May the 28th, we will exult, scream, hop up and down, fall in each other’s arms and cry. After the final outcome, we’ll remember the joys and the sorrows, the unfading memories and the stories to tell. We’ll also endlessly talk about the latest promises, like the one which Nii Lamptey once incarnated. The incredible Ghanian striker, born in the suburbs of Accra, who once crushed the competition with his talent. At only 16, his incredible performances earned him a scrutinized transfer to Anderlecht, and the status of being Pelé’s official heir. “People were literally fighting to sign me”, he remembers, laughing, today in his home in Ghana. “One evening, some policemen had to escort me home…I was making these people crazy! Personally, I just wanted to play football, I didn’t understand anything.” Alas! Between scams orchestrated by his agent, personal tragedies and travels all around the world, the player ended up vanishing quickly at the end of the nineties, just like Halley’s Comet.
A springboard towards the summits
Others, however, succeeded where he has failed, and carry on perpetuating the dreams of glory of young boys from all over the continent. Just like Isaac Success, the aptly named. After having scored seven goals in five matches during the 2013 edition, the Nigerian phenomenon lost against Ivory Coast in the final, before exporting his talents at Udinese, Granada, and Watford. From the wastelands of Benin City to the immaculate pitches of the Old Continent, his destiny changed in a very short space of time. “In Africa, we’re fighting everyday”, he recently explained to the English press, proud of his express ascent towards the summits. “We have to fight and carry on believing that what we do everyday will create a path.” A success-story which reminds us, more than ever, of the springboard which is this U17 Total AFCON, which sounds particularly uncertain this year. But before the dream can come true for the numerous aspirants, there is a match to play under the burning sun. Everything starts here, and now, under the sound of the vuvuzelas. And who knows where all of this will bring us…