Navi Mumbai, Oct 17: Two-time champions Ghana will be overwhelming favourites when they take on continental neighbours Niger in a pre-quarterfinal clash of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup here on Wednesday.
Ghana are strong forces in the age-group competition having won it in 1991 and 1995 and having reached four out of five finals in the 1990s.
But Niger have the ability to cause an upset. In fact, it was Niger that had stopped five-time champions and geographical neighbours Nigeria from entering the competition held in India for the first time in the zonal stage in their home continent.
Niger had pumped in a last-gasp goal against their more fancied and stronger rivals in the return leg after having lost the first leg 0-1 to Nigeria.
They won on aggregate and made it to the CAF Africa U-17 Cup of Nations competition, the last qualifying stage to book their berth to India.
There too Niger exceeded expectations by earning a 2-2 draw against Angola, losing to another top team Mali 0-1 and beating Tanzania 1-0 to reach the semi-final, where they were beaten on penalties by Ghana, their rivals tomorrow, before losing 1-3 to Guinea in the third place match.
Here in Group D, they have not been impressive though. They have been beaten by European champions Spain (4-0) and South American champions Brazil (2- 0) and have made it to the Round-of-16 only by beating North Korea 1-0 and finishing third in the group with three points.
It was Salim Abdourahmane who netted their match-winner in the second half against the North Koreans which earned them a last 16 berth by virtue of being one of the four best third place finishers in the preliminary group stage of the competition.
On the other hand Ghana reached their first U-17 World Cup for a decade in, at times, stop-start circumstances.
After edging Burkina Faso 6-5 over two legs in the second round of qualification, they saw off Côte d’Ivoire to progress to the CAF Africa U-17 Cup of Nations in Gabon. Once there, they hit their stride, defeating Cameroon 4-0 and the hosts 5-0, the latter result securing their spot as the first African side on the plane to India 2017.
After that, the Ghanaians did not score again in regulation time, drawing 0-0 with Guinea in their final group game and with Niger in the semi-finals, winning on penalties to reach the final, where they lost 1-0 to Mali.
But they can frustrate their fans as shown in 0-0 drawn games against Guinea and win on penalties over Niger to enter the final before losing 0-1 to Mali in the final of the continental championships.
In their Group A clashes, Ghana hit their straps by topping it with 1-0 and 4-0 victories over Colombia and hosts India interspersed with a 0-1 loss to the US.
Ghana: Danlad Ibrahim, John Out, Gideon Acquah, Edmund Arko-Mensah, Najeeb Yakubu, Eric Ayiah, Ibrahim Sulley, Kudus Mohammed, Richard Danso, Emmanuel Toku, Aminu Mohammed, Abdul Yusif, Gabriel Leveh, Bismark Owusu, Kwame Aziz, Rashid Alhassan, Mohammed Iddriss, Sadiq Ibrahim, Isaac Gyamfi, Michael Acquaye.
Niger: Moussa Laouali, Yacine Wa Massamba, Mahamadou Mahamane, Nasser Mahaman, Farouk Idrissa, Ismail Issaka, Ismael Issaka, Inoussa Amadou, Habibou Sofiane, Kairou Amoustapha, Rachid Alfari, Karim Tinni, Djibrilla Ibrahim, Yacouba Aboubacar, Kader Aboubacar, Rachid Soumana, Abdoulaye Boubacar, Ibrahim Boubacar, Ibrahim Namata, Salim Abdourahmane, Hamid Galissoune, Khaled Lawali.