BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
The U-20 Africa Cup of Nations has now reached the crucial and knockout stage as teams seek to fulfil their first objectives.
This is the qualification for the U-20 World Cup. The quarter finals begin on Thursday as both Tuesday and Wednesday are rest days.
The four semi-finalists qualify for the World Cup holding in Indonesia in May and June.
Thus each of the eight teams is a match away from getting to the World Cup, making the Thursday and Friday matches very crucial.
On Thursday, Senegal, the Group A winners will take on Nigeria’s western neighbours, Benin Republic at the Cairo International Stadium.
The Senegalese, apart from seeking the first objective of qualifying for the World Cup, are also hoping to continue their emerging dominance of national team football in Africa.
They are currently both AFCON and CHAN winners. They are the African Beach soccer champions. A win of the U20 Africa Cup of Nations will make them the first country in Africa to hold four continental titles at the same time.
The Teranga Cubs have been a dominant force in the tournament so far, winning all three matches in Group A with striker Pape Diop leading the scorers’ chart with four goals. They are also yet to concede any goal.
The second quarter-final game, also on Thursday, will see Uganda taking on Nigeria at Suez Canal Stadium in Ismailia.
It will be the first ever encounter of Nigeria and Uganda at the u20 level.
The Hippos of Uganda topped Group B with one win and two draws, while Nigeria finished second in Group A with two wins and a loss. Both teams will be eager to secure their spot in the semi-finals.,
On Friday, The Gambia and South Sudan will clash at Haras El Hodoud Stadium in Alexandria.
The Gambia finished first in their group with three wins, while South Sudan qualified for the knockout stages as one of the best third-placed teams.
The final fixture of the quarterfinals will see Congo take on Tunisia at Cairo International Stadium in Cairo.
Congo finished second in Group B with one win and two draws, while Tunisia finished in Group C with one win and a draw.