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Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 15:32 UK

Nigeria ready for U17 World Cup

By Oluwashina Okeleji
BBC Sport, Nigeria

Former Nigeria under-17 captain Lukman Haruna
Lukman Haruna brought back the 2007 Under-17 World Cup to Nigeria

After a nervy wait the Fifa Under-17 World Cup kicks off this weekend in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

The grand ceremony to officially open the tournament will precede the match between hosts and defending champions Nigeria and Germany.

This is a tournament that has produced great stars like Cesc Fabregas, Ronaldinho, Fernando Redondo, Carlos Tevez, Michael Essien, Nwankwo Kanu, Harry Kewell, Luis Figo, Xavi and Landon Donovan.

That the event finally kicks off on Saturday will come as a huge relief to the Local Organising Committee (LOC) after the build-up to the tournament has been beset with delays and difficulties.

At one point Nigeria even formally withdrew from holding the tournament after the government said hosting the event was not a priority.

Fifa is delighted that despite challenges with poor planning, chaotic organisation and unfulfilled promises, attention can now shift to the football.

"It's the first time that Fifa has done so much to support any LOC to make sure a tournament succeed," Fifa general-secretary Jerome Valcke told BBC Sport.

"We have put in all the strengths at Fifa to ensure this works. We have had bad and good days to have a successful tournament."

Unlike previous tournaments Nigeria has hosted this time the LOC has struggled to spark the the interest of the locals.

Apart from lack of publicity the LOC have struggled with preparing adequate training facilities, the ticketing and accreditation.

But it is not all about doom and gloom as the tournament promises fireworks and exciting times on the pitch.

The stadium in Lagos for the Under-17 World Cup
Lagos will host Group A at the Under-17 World Cup being hosted by Nigeria

Group A is the Group of death and is based in Abuja it pits three-time winners and hosts Nigeria against South American runners-up Argentina and European champions Germany.

Neutrals need to spare a thought for Honduras, the side with the unenviable task of competing against that illustrious trio.

Both Nigeria and Germany will approach the opening match hoping to come out unscathed.

The two countries played in the final of the maiden edition in China in 1985 with Nigeria winning 2-0.

Unsurprisingly, Nigeria coach John Obuh appears to be leaning on God for support amid the age-cheat scandal that rocked his team in the build up to the opening match.

"As we are talking about the Germans, they too will be talking about us. I feel no pressure or whatsoever to win hence I will let the will of God take precedence over human desire," Obuh told BBC Sport.

Brazil, who have also won the tournament three times, bring their samba rhythm to the commercial city of Lagos in Group B where they will compete with Japan, Mexico and debutants Switzerland.

We don't feel like favourites at all

Brazil under-17 coach Lucho Nizzo

The South American champions have appeared in five finals to date, and they know that winning a record fourth title will not be easy.

"We don't feel like favourites at all. We give everyone the same amount of respect and it's going to be a tough battle right from the start," says Brazil coach Lucho Nizzo

The people of Calabar in south east Nigeria are delighted to have Group C where African champions the Gambia and Asian winners Iran compete with European runners-up the Netherlands and Colombia.

"I will be supporting Gambia because they are Africans but the excitement of watching Holland and Colombia is unparalleled," local fan Edet Bassey explains.

For Burkina Faso to survive in Group D in Enugu, they need to take inspiration from the Young Stallions class of 2001 which defeated Spain and Argentina to reach the semi-finals in a breakthrough tournament for the West African nation.

If they are to repeat that feat they first have to get past Turkey, New Zealand and Costa Rica.

Spare a thought for Malawi in Group E, as the Young Flames will face the stiffest of challenges in what will be the country's first-ever World Cup appearance at any level.

The experienced Spain and USA, the only nation to have qualified for every Under-17 World Cup, will be favourites here.

The big question however is whether the UAE can find their feet as they return to the tournament after an 18-year absence.

Algeria may have finished as runners-up in the African championship on home soil but they may struggle as they face traditionally strong teams like Italy and Uruguay in Group F as well as South Korea.

To stay alive here, they will be counting on the supports the Kaduna fans who have adopted the young Fennecs as one of their own.

The top two sides from each group and the four best third-placed teams will all qualify for the last 16.

Everything is set in Nigeria and the problems can be cast aside as attention shifts to the 504 players who have started dreaming of clinching the global title and leaving an indelible mark on Fifa's third biggest tournament.

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see also
Yar'Adua backs U17 World Cup
20 Oct 09 |  African
Fifa to use wrist-scan age tests
23 Oct 09 |  Internationals
Nigeria name under-17 squad
16 Oct 09 |  African
UAE slams Nigeria facilities
25 Sep 09 |  African
Fifa happy with Nigeria progress
07 Aug 09 |  African
Nigeria U-17 given Fifa approval
14 Jun 09 |  African
Nigeria U-17 World Cup in doubt
22 Oct 08 |  African

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