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Africa's representatives at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup have experienced varying levels of success in Nigeria. After a first round with highs and lows for the continent's teams, two of five remain for the knockout rounds.
The final first round matches at the Under-17 World Cup came to a conclusion Sunday, and the pairings for the knockout rounds were finalized. Disappointingly for the African hosts, the final group of 16 teams that will battle it out for the youth championship this year lacks the normally large number of African teams.
Of the five countries raising the flag for African youth football in Nigeria this year, only host Nigeria and Burkina Faso advanced to the second round that begins Wednesday.
Continental champions Gambia, African runner-up Algeria, and Malawi were all eliminated in the first round.
Malawi coach John Kaputa said he could not explain the general under-performance of the African squads, but said his team suffered from a lack of preparation time.
"I will talk about my team only, Malawi, because we only assembled these players in August," said John Kaputa. "And therefore September we are making our preparations, and then coming from those preparations without playing any testing international match for them to get exposed, that is why we have not done so well."
While most of the African teams failed to live up to their reputations for strength at the youth football level, Nigeria, playing in front of huge home crowds, managed to win a difficult group that included traditional powers Germany and Argentina.
Burkina Faso has been the only other exception to the trend. After a loss and a tie in its first two matches, the team avoided elimination with victory over Costa Rica on the last group match day, putting the Burkinabes through to the round of 16.
The largest disappointment for Africa was continental champion Gambia, which accumulated just one point on its way to an early elimination. Algeria and Malawi were making their first appearances in the Under-17 World Cup.
Malawi Coach Kaputa said his team was proud to have represented Africa despite being sent home early.
"It is a learning process for the young boys," he said. "It is a learning process for Malawi. It is a learning process for all of us. We are learning a lot from what is happening around the World Cup tournaments. And I am sure, if we keep the boys together, and proceed to the next under-20, proceed to the next under-21, proceed to the next under-23, we are grooming a better senior national team for the country."
Thursday, Nigeria will return to action in Abuja against New Zealand, and Burkina Faso faces Spain in Kano.