Ghana sets standard at FIFA Under-20 World Cup

Andre Ayew became a senior Ghana star after Under-20 World Cup success Gavin Barker / BackpagePix

Africa may have won only a single gold medal to date at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, but the continent has regularly provided teams for the latter stages of the competition, and will hope to do so again in South Korea this year.

The 2017 tournament kicks off on Saturday in Jeonju, with Senegal, South Africa, Zambia, and Guinea representing Africa at the showpiece finals.

They will all hope to emulate the Ghana side of 2009, which won the tournament hosted by Egypt. The squad was captained by Andre Ayew and contained a number of future senior team stars, such as Samuel Inkoom, Jonathan Mensah, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Ransford Osei, and Dominic Adiyiah.

Adiyiah finished as top goal-scorer at the competition, winning the prize for best player, and was tipped for a huge future in the game, later joining AC Milan. But his career slowly fizzled out and his potential went largely unfulfilled, with his most recent club being Nakhon Ratchasima F.C. in Thailand.

The gold medal was a huge triumph for Ghana, who had twice suffered finale heartache when they lost to Brazil in 1993 and Argentina in 2001, and thus had to be content with silver.

Nigeria have also twice been losing finalists and are still seeking their maiden global title, though must be content to wait a bit longer after failing to qualify for this year's event.

The Flying Eagles reached the decider in 1989 in Saudi Arabia, but lost 2-0 to a Portuguese side that included the outstanding Fernando Couto, who would go on to earn 110 caps for the senior national team in a career that took him to Barcelona and Lazio.

That was, ironically, a Nigerian side that battled to make an impact on the senior national team in the years to come, with some exceptions, such as Mutiu Adepoju.

In 2005, the Samson Siasia-led Nigerians made the final again, but lost to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina. The Barca star scored twice in the final, both times from the penalty spot, to finish top-scorer at the competition with six goals.

John Obi Mikel was a prominent member of that Nigeria squad, along with Taye Taiwo and Chinedu Obasi.

Aside from that, Nigeria collected the bronze medal in 1985 when they defeated the USSR in a penalty shoot-out, following a 0-0 draw.

No other African side has managed to reach the final, though Mali have twice finished third, most recently in the tournament played in New Zealand two years ago. There they defeated Senegal 3-1 to claim bronze, while in 1999, at the tournament staged in Nigeria, they defeated Uruguay 1-0 to take third place.

Egypt claimed third in 2001, beating Paraguay, with Hossam Ghaly, Sherif Ekramy, and Mohamed Shawky in their squad, while four years later Morocco ended fourth as they lost to Brazil in the bronze-medal match.

The only other African side to make the semifinals was the Senegal team that achieved the feat in New Zealand. That tournament was the third time, after 2001 and 2005, that Africa provided two of the four semifinalists.

Three players from the continent have won the Golden Ball award for best player - Seydou Keita with Mali (1999), Adiyiah (2009) and, last time out, Mali's Adama Traore.