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Saturday, 17 February, 2001, 12:34 GMT
Seychelles hosts U-17 Cup of Nations
Football has little to boast of in Seychelles, but its soccer stadiums rather than sands will be the destination for many visitors in the next two weeks.
The under-17 African Nations Cup finals kick off to overshadow life in the country's pristine beaches and holiday resorts, starting on Sunday, February 18.
This is the biggest football event ever to come to the Indian Ocean islanders - popular for the Miss World Beauty pageant - who have only recently started to play actively in the African international competitions.
The championship is sure to draw scouts from leading clubs in Europe.
English champions Manchester United have already confirmed they will be sending a scout to watch the event for exciting young talents.
Excitement has been phenomenal as fans lay their hands on T-shirts with a replica of the mascot, badges and a pull-out of the Seychelles side from a magazine.
The government has been reported to have spent over $300,000 to organise the competition and a final inspection visit of the two stadiums in Victoria - the Stade Linite and the Stade Popiler - was made by football officials just before the finals.
It will also determine the African countries that qualify for the world under-17 championships, ironically in another island, Trinidad and Tobago, later this year.
World masters at this level, Ghana, are surprisingly missing, but it will be a Ghanaian that will lead the hosts' campaign.
The legendary Charles 'CK' Gyamfi, who won three African Nations Cups for the Black Stars, is the technical director of Seychelles.
With Ghana not there, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria could be the team to beat, based on their past record with players like Nwankwo Kanu, who won the World Cup at this level in 1993 in Japan.
Nigeria also have a psychological boost travelling to Seychelles as the only African side that managed to win a game at the Meridian Cup tournament in Italy two weeks ago, where Mali, Cameroon and Ghana all performed miserably.
Ethiopia and Mozambique are back for their second appearance at this level and both could just be the dark horses of the competition, after they eliminated Zambia and South Africa respectively to qualify.
Burkina Faso were runners-up at the last edition in Guinea. Coach Jacques Yameogo is still with the junior Stallions and could have a lot under his sleeves after his side's terrific surprise in Guinea.
Whether Guinea will be allowed to compete is another matter as the football federation is under the threat of a Fifa ban for dissolving Feguifoot, the national federation.
Guinea's preparation has been discouraging after losing 3-0 to Mali in a friendly in Conakry, and a training camp to France was cancelled due to financial reasons.
Guinea¿s performance during the qualifiers left much to be desired and coach Diane Yaye is aware of the task ahead and the expectations back home after the team was knocked out in the group stage when they played as hosts two years ago.
Travelling to Seychelles could be a treacherous distance for some of the sides. Mali arrived with just five players and coach Sekou Diallo, whilst the rest of the delegation were stranded in transit in Paris.
That, however, is unlikely to daunt the Malians, who are among the strong contenders for the title with a flock of talent from the country's most successful football school, the Centre Salif Keita in Bamako.
Ethiopia, who are reasonably near, did not find it easy either, as 14 players and some officials arrived in Victoria on Thursday, but their luggage and other members were left behind in Kenya.
But by the time every body arrived in one piece, a small island was ready to bubble with football fever.
17 Feb 01 | Africa
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06 Feb 01 | Africa
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