By Emmanuel Yaw Nkansah
For the third time this year, Senegal are African champions. First, it was the African Nations Championship, then it was the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations, and now the Young Teranga Cubs have followed in the footsteps of their title-winning seniors to claim the Africa U-17 Cup of Nations trophy. In what was a first-ever final appearance for both sides, Senegal showed greater determination and ability as they overturned a deficit to secure the victory and their first-ever U-17 title.
Senegal got off to a great start at the Nelson Mandela Stadium as they were almost totally dominant in the first few minutes of the game but Morocco quickly recovered from their lackluster start and snatched the lead in the 14th minute. Moroccan captain, Abdelhamid Ait Boudlal headed home Abdel Hamid Maali’s corner to put his side ahead. Now in the lead, Morocco proceeded to frustrate the Senegalese attempts at finding an equalizer with their trademark defensive organization and the first half ended 1-0 in their favor.
Senegal came roaring out of the blocks in the second half and almost equalized barely a minute into the half but Mamadou Sadio’s effort flew narrowly over the bar. Their persistent attack paid off in the 76th minute when Ait Boudlal handled the ball in the Moroccan penalty area. A penalty was given after a VAR review and Serigne Fallou Diouf made no mistake from the spot, converting to draw Senegal level at the 80th-minute mark. It was practically all Senegal needed from that point onwards as the rejuvenated Young Teranga Cubs pressed in search of a winner. Three minutes after their equalizer, they were in the lead. Mamadou Sawane headed home from a corner to complete the comeback and put Senegal in control of the game.
Morocco, deflated by the Senegalese resurgence failed to pose much of a threat for the rest of the game as Senegal cruised their way to victory after 90 plus 6 minutes of time added on.
Having claimed their first-ever U-17 Afcon trophy in their first-ever final appearance, Serigne Saliou Dia’s charges will definitely relish their triumph. While it wasn’t a run as dominant as the U-20 sides title triumph earlier this year, Senegal nevertheless was a cut above almost all their opponents in the tournament. the only team that managed to pose a serious challenge to the Young Teranga Cubs was Burkina Faso, who beat Mali 2-1 to claim the bronze medals in the third-place playoff. Commiserations to Morocco but Senegal totally deserved this triumph which further cements their place as the most dominant footballing nation in Africa presently.
Top Scorer: Amara Diouf (Senegal)
Best Goalkeeper: Serigne Diouf (Senegal)
Fair Play: Morocco
Player of the Tournament: Souleymane Alio (Burkina Faso)
Best Coach: Said Chiba (Morocco)