Many national teams in Africa may be mired in mediocrity but Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya believes the future is bright for the next generation of stars.
The 1988 African Footballer of the Year has been in Gabon where the African Under-17 Championship ends today with Ghana playing Mali in the final.
He told the BBC that based on the quality of football displayed in Gabon, there is cause for optimism, not pessimism, regarding the future.
“The standard has been very high and the four teams going to the World Cup have all played very well,” said Bwalya, the former president of the Football Association of Zambia.
The tournament, initially earmarked for Madagascar, was moved at the eleventh hour to a country with no recognised junior football structures.
But Bwalya, who also sits on the Confederation of African Football’s executive committee, said there were many positives to take from this year’s competition.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the future of African football is very bright.
“Ghana and Guinea set the tempo for the tournament while Niger defied all odds to qualify for their first ever youth World Cup and that’s a great achievement.”
He predicted that Ghana, Mali, Niger and Guinea will present their opponents with plenty of problems when the U-17 World Cup kicks off in India on 6 October.
Ghana are going to a tournament they know very well – they were crowned world champions in 1995 and 1999, and have also finished runners-up on two occasions.
Mali, beaten finalists in 2015, will be making their fifth appearance at the U-17 global showpiece.
Guinea got to the semi-finals in 1985 but Niger are basking in the glory of having qualified for a Fifa tournament for the first time ever.
“Don’t forget that Africa has done very well in the under-17 tournaments [seven titles] and I think all these teams are good for the quarter-finals and more,” said Bwalya.
“This Malian team is good as the team that got to the final last time around and Ghana are looking really sharp.
“I’m confident these teams will uphold our reputation as Africans in the junior tournaments.”