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  • CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations about to kick off
  • Defending champions Zambia failed to qualify
  • Four tickets for Poland 2019 on the line

With four places at Poland 2019 up for grabs, the FIFA U-20 World Cup is tantalisingly close for the eight participating sides at the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations.

The continental showdown takes place in Niger and will run from 2-17 February 2019.

FIFA.com takes a closer look at the tournament and the main contenders, which do not include Zambia, after the defending champions were surprisingly knocked out in the final qualifying round.

The favourites
Still to win a continental championship in this age category, Mali have the potential to finally join the ranks of the victorious. Mamoutou Kane’s charges laid down a marker in the second and third qualifying rounds with aggregate victories over Tanzania (1-2, 4-1) and Cameroon (1-1, 3-0), despite the absence of several key players who had club duty in Europe.

However, for the continental final in Niger, Les Aiglons have at their disposal a similar squad to that which brought them glory at the U-17 CAN in 2017 and took them to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup that same year. They can also count on their forward and star man Lassana N’Diaye, currently on the books of CSKA Moscow. One player they will be without, however, is Monaco’s promising midfielder Abdou Salam Ag Jiddou.

Also firmly in the mix are Ghana. Runners-up to Mali two years ago at U-17 level, the Black Satellites will be keen to make amends this time out, especially after missing the last U-20 finals in Zambia. They can count on a full-strength squad too, including a clutch of talented youngsters who have collectively been trying their luck in Scandinavia.

There is also a strong case to be made for Nigeria. Seven titles and 14 podium finishes speak volumes of their consistency at this age level. They have plenty of quality in their current squad too, such as striker Yahaya Nazifi, as well as the vast experience of coach Paul Osahoun Aigbogun, who has plied his trade in Wales, the USA, South Africa and England.

Tournament regulars Senegal cannot be discounted either, after finishing runners-up in the last two editions of this championship. And while coach Youssouph Dabo remains cautious, insisting that “no two tournaments are the same, especially at youth level”, opponents will need to be on their game when facing the young Lions, who impressed in disposing of Egypt and Congo in the qualifying rounds.

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