Africa stands at the very heart of the footballing world this term with September’s FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 marking the start of a season that will end in style with next summer’s 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. In between those two events, and almost equidistant in geographical terms, Nigeria is next to share its passion for the beautiful game in its role as FIFA U-17 World Cup host nation.
The action begins today, as the stars of tomorrow seek to take their first ever steps in the global arena. In total, 504 players have been called up to show their worth, and vie to take up the baton from illustrious former participants Ronaldinho, Iker Casillas, Nwankwo Kanu, Michael Essien, Luis Figo and others. The youngsters who have converged in Nigeria are nothing like as celebrated as their predecessors, of course, but some have already rubbed shoulders with the finest talents in the game by earning first-team experience despite their tender age. Even that is unlikely to rival the pressures they are about to face, however. “They know their obligations and they know that the national shirt sits heavy on the shoulders,” according to 1986 FIFA World Cup winner and current Argentina U-17 coach Jose Luis Brown.
Brown’s charges will get the tournament up and running against Group A rivals Honduras in a game that would not be out of place in the semi-finals, proof that the competition is likely to be engrossing right from the opening whistle. Runners-up on the South American stage and serious candidates to go all the way, the young Albicelestes must nonetheless face 2007 bronze medallists and recent European champions Germany in their section. And if that were not challenging enough, their final group opponents are another team heavily backed to take the title – reigning champions, hosts and three-time winners Nigeria.
As for Brazil, they will go into the tournament eager to clinch their fourth title at this level, having previously prevailed in 1997, 1999 and 2003. They will also be keen to erase memories of their last two appearances, which ended in defeat to Mexico in the 2005 final and a Round-of-16 loss to Nigeria last time out. Spearheading the Seleçao bid will be fearsome duo Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, who have already captured the imagination of the Brazilian public and given future opponents a stark warning thanks to their displays in the Brazilian top flight.
How concerned Spain will be by that warning is debatable, with the European side surely belonging among the elite company of the overall favourites. Regularly dominant on the Old Continent, La Roja hope to at last transfer their local supremacy to the highest level.
Talented and unpredictable in equal parts, Mexico went from winning everything in Peru in 2005 to failing to qualify to defend their title at the following edition in Korea Republic. Who knows what side the young Aztecas will bring to the party this year? Their American neighbours to the north cannot be written off either, particularly as they are the only country to have appeared in every edition of the competition, often faring well. They start as potential outsiders.
In terms of Europe’s representatives, the same goes for a solid Italy side, an ambitious Turkey team and a Netherlands squad out for revenge. All featured in Peru before failing to qualify for Korea Republic and all have enough quality to make a mockery of the prediction process. The same could also be said of Japan and Korea Republic, whose fluid play and excellent youth training programmes may be finally about to produce tangible results.
Lastly, a surprise of sorts could come from Gambia, though as two-time African champions at this level, it would be far from a shock to see them prosper. Enjoying a football renaissance at the moment, Algeria could also go far, and both they and Gambia will undoubtedly acclimatise themselves to the hot and humid Nigerian conditions ahead of their rivals.
As a country with a fervent love of the game, Nigeria looks likely to be the perfect venue for this festival of football. Thousands of fans travelled to follow the Golden Eaglets in Korea Republic two years ago and their noisy, playful support clearly lifted the team coached by Yemi Tella, who has since passed away. Those same supporters are doubtless readying themselves to fill the stands and cheer on the stars of the future, with Abuja, Bauchi, Calabar, Enugu, Ijebu-Ode, Kaduna, Kano and Lagos the eight cities selected to welcome the 24 trophy hopefuls.
Aiteo Cup: Diri Hails Bayelsa Finalists
Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, has lauded the feat of the state-owned football teams who reached the finals in the male and female categories of the 2021 Aiteo Cup.
Diri, while congratulating Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens for their outstanding performances, praised their indomitable spirit and resilience in surmounting the odds to qualify for the last stage of Nigeria’s oldest football competition.
Bayelsa United, who plays in the second tier Nigerian National League, on Friday defeated Premier League neighbours Rivers United 1-0 in the semi-finals, while Bayelsa Queens crushed perennial rivals Rivers Angels 5-0 to reach the women’s final.
The Governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Alabrah, on Saturday, described Bayelsa United as “giant killers” for defeating Premier League sides Enugu Rangers, Lobi Stars and Rivers United on their way to the final.
“The excellent run of Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens in this year’s Aiteo Cup is very heartwarming. Both teams reaching the finals is no mean feat. I congratulate them for making the state proud and setting a record of teams from the state playing in the finals of the male and female categories of the same competition for the first time,” Diri stated.
“By their outstanding performance, Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens have shown that the sporting revolution of our Prosperity Administration, which resulted in Bayelsa placing third in the last National Sports Festival in Edo State for the first time, is on course. I therefore urge them to complete their excellent run in the competition by bringing home the trophies.
D’Tigress To Play Mozambique In Afrobasket
Nigeria’s senior basketball team, D’Tigress, have been drawn to face Mozambique and a yet to qualify team in Group B of the 2021 Women’s Afrobasket, which holds from September 17 to 27 in Yaounde, Cameroon.
The draw was held in Yaounde last Saturday.
D’Tigress will be hoping to retain the title they won two years ago in Senegal, where they defeated the hosts in the final. A win in Cameroon will mean they have won the last three editions of the tournament.
The Nigerians will know their final group opponent when the FIBA Zone 6 qualifiers take place from August 16 to 22.
In Group A, hosts Cameroon will face Cape Verde and Kenya, while Senegal, the most successful team in the competition’s history with 11 first-place finishes, will slug it out with Egypt and Gabon in Group C.
Mali, Ivory Coast, and a team to be decided via wild card will fight for a slot in the next round in Group D.
Ebonyi Football Fans Celebrate Nwankwo Kanu At 45
Football fans in Ebonyi State yesterday, celebrated the birthday of formerNigerian international and Arsenal legend, Nwankwo Kanu.
The former Super Eagles skipper turned 45 yesterday.
Tidespoets source gathered that the 1993 FIFA U-17 world cup winner, fondly called “Papillo’’ by his fans had 86 caps for Nigeria.
The former Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Club of Owerri’s talisman scored 13 goals for Nigeria in an enviable career that spanned from 1994 to 2010.
Kanu is a recipient of the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), an Olympic Games football gold medalist and had illustrious club careers with Ajax Amsterdam of Holland, Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion of England.
Defunct Ebonyi Angels FC of Abakaliki Defender, James Onele, said that Kanu thrilled soccer fans across the world with sublime skills and trademark passes.
“Kanu won two African Footballer of the Year awards, an AFCON silver medal, four AFCON bronze medals among other honours.
“He was the first Nigerian, alongside Finidi George to win the prestigious UEFA champions league trophy with Ajax in 1995,” said Onele.
An Arsenal FC supporter, Ejike Okoro, said the club’s fans were proud of Kanu’s achievements during his time with the English Premier League side.
“Kanu played 197 times for Arsenal, scoring 44 goals and was part of the club’s invincible team that did not lose any match in the 2003-04 EPL season.
“He was instrumental in endearing Arsenal to millions of Nigerian soccer fans, despite later dropping to lowly-rated clubs such as Portsmouth and West Bromwich Albion,” Okoro said.
A banker and football enthusiast, Chief Barry Ogoh, told active footballers to emulate Papillo in investing adequately for the ‘rainy day’.
“Kanu, Augustine J.J. Okocha, among other ex-internationals are still financially stable as many ex-internationals have become bankrupt.
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