Twelve years since they last won the Total Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title, Ghana will be on the line to vie for their fourth crown on Saturday evening at the Olympic Stadium in Nouakchott.
On the other side of the ring will be newbies and tournament first timers Uganda, looking to make history by winning the title on their first time of asking.
It will be all in or nothing as the West African giants take on their East African counterparts for the ultimate crown in Mauritania’s capital, in what promises to be a cracking finale.
Both teams have shown grit and determination, at times a touch of luck, to find their way to the last match of the tournament. But all that will be forgotten and all effort, blood and sweat thrown onto the green turf under the lights for a shot at the title.
Uganda will look to enter the final with less pressure as in what many observers point out, they have already done better than they would have thought.
On the opposite end, the Ghanaians are the favourites on paper and pressure will be on them with the weight of expectation on their shoulders as they look to deliver a gift on Ghana’s independence day.
Road to the final:
The Ghanaians made it out of the group stages as one of the best two third placed teams after losing their last group match to Gambia to finish third in the group. They had beaten Tanzania and drawn against Morocco, and those two results were just but enough to push them into the quarters.
In the last eight, they matches up against Cameroon, one of the pre-tournament favourites. They came from a goal down in extra time to force out a 1-1 draw and win the tie on penalties to progress to the semis.
In the last four, they were matched up against Gambia, the same team that beat them 2-1 in the group stages. This time, they proved to have done their homework right and laid down a 1-0 revenge against the Young Scorpions to sail to the final.
The Ugandan Hippos finished second in Group A after victories over hosts Mauritania and Mozambique, their only loss of the tournament so far being against Cameroon.
In the quarter finals, they faced a tough Burkina Faso side and weathered the West African storm to win on penalties and sail to the semis.
They were unstoppable in the last eight, beating Tunisia emphatically 4-1 to announce themselves in the final with a thud.
Key battles to watch:
Percious Boah (Ghana) vs Musa Ramadhan (Uganda)
Boah has been Ghana’s main man upfront and with three goals in the tournament so far, he is expected to be the firing man in the final. The burly Ghanaian forward has shown an eye for goal not only from open play but set pieces as well.
Ugandan central defender, Musa Ramadhan is expected to have his busiest night in the tournament against the active and disruptive Boah.
Ramadhan has been a consistent figure in the Ugandan backline, playing every minute of every match from the opening game and he has anchored the defence to only concede thrice, once each against Cameroon, Mauritania and Tunisia.
Derrick Kakooza (Uganda) vs Frank Kwabena Assinki (Ghana)
Two penalties against Mozambique and Mauritania and a hattrick against Tunisia have propelled Uganda’s Kakooza to the top of the scoring charts and a firm grip on the tournament’s Golden Boot.
While many would have easily dismissed him after the first few matches, the hattrick against Tunisia, all goals well taken have definitely thrust the 18-year old Police FC striker on the limelight.
Once again, Uganda will look up to him as the point man upfront as they look to crack in some goals and a match up against Ghanaian centre back Kwabena will be one to watch out for.
Emmanuel Essiam (Ghana) vs Bobosi Byaruhanga
Both Uganda and Ghana love to play the possession type of football and all this is usually dictated from the middle of the pack. This is an area that will be hugely battled for both sides who will want to be the ones dictating play.
Uganda’s Byaruhanga has proven to be a ball magnet for the Hippos and it is no wonder he has been included in the Uganda Cranes squad for the upcoming Total Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. The midfielder’s range of passing, his vision and work rate has been immense for Uganda so far in the tournament.
Ghana’s Essiam has been a workhorse for the Black Satellites especially in winning possession in midfield and providing a shield for the defence.
The two will offer an eye catching battle in midfield as each looks to dictate the tempo for his side.
Other players to watch.
Ghana – Abdul Fatawu Isahaku has continued to be a constant threat with his left foot throughout the tournament. With two goals so far, the pint sized midfielder has offered attacking danger for the Ghanaians with his passing and ability on set pieces.
Also, if a man is to be relied upon coming off the bench, then it would be Frank Boateng. The striker has been a good impact player and scored the equalizer in the 1-1 draw with Cameroon in regulation time during the quarters and if he does not start in the final, he might be the man to change the face of things, if Ghana need him off the bench.
Uganda – Left back Abdu Azizi Kayondo is the exact modern fullback any coach would want in his squad. The Vipers SC man has been crucial for Uganda both defensively and offensively and his indefatigable runs all over the left channel will be key for the Ugandans.
Richard Basangwa has been Uganda’s unsung hero in attack and his work of linking up midfield play to attack was particularly crucial in the victory over Tunisia in the semi finals. He will once again be looked upon to provide the key passes and defense splitting runs that will open up the Ghanaian defense.
What they said:
Ghana coach, Abdul Karim Zito:
The fact that we have won this title before is in the past. Now we need to look at the present. We are keen to take this Cup and the biggest reason is because Ghanaian people trusted us and sent us here and it would only proper if we give them a gift especially on the day Ghana is celebrating its birthday.
In Africa now, there are no big names or small names. Each country is improving and we know Uganda will be a tough opponent. They beat Tunisia 4-1 and it was not luck. They played well and we will not underrate them.
Ghana striker, Emmanuel Agyemang Duah:
We know that the likes of Dede Ayew made history for Ghana, but we are not relying on that. It is time for us in the current team to also write our names in the history of Ghana.
We are here for the ultimate and the greatest motivation is that we are playing on the day that Ghana is celebrating its independence. The attitude and motivation we come into the game with is very different because we want to win it for our motherland.
Uganda Coach, Morley Byekwaso
It will be tough game because we will be playing a strong, tactical team with a lot of experience in this tournament, but we are ready to play. We have nothing to lose and we only need to play good, whoever plays well will take the day.
We need to have lots of tactical discipline because we know how strong and physical they are and how good they are on the ball. If we read the opponent right and prepare well for them, I know we will succeed.
Uganda captain, Gavin Kizito
We are not under any pressure as a team and players coming into this match. We have played five games so far and we have done well. We need to just take it calm and as players we believe once we are fit we will be ready to face any challenge.
We are ready for the final and we know we will face a tough team but we will be all out to win.