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.
World Cup 2022: Man Killed In Iran Celebrating Team’s Loss
A man is reported to have been killed by security forces in northern Iran, as anti-government protesters publicly celebrated the national football team’s elimination from the World Cup.
Activists said Mehran Samak was shot in the head after he honked his car’s horn in Bandar Anzali on Tuesday night.
Videos from other cities showed crowds cheering and dancing in the streets.
Many Iranians refused to support their football team in Qatar, seeing it as a representation of the Islamic Republic.
State-affiliated media blamed hostile forces both inside and outside Iran for putting unfair pressure on the players following their 1-0 loss to the USA in the final group game.
The players did not sing the national anthem before their first game, a 6-2 defeat by England, in an apparent expression of solidarity with the protesters.
But they did sing at the Wales game, which they won 2-0, and at the politically-charged showdown against the USA.
Some protesters saw that as a betrayal of their cause even though there were reports that the team came under intense pressure from Iranian authorities.
The unrest started 10 weeks ago following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating the strict rules requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab.
Authorities have responded to what they have portrayed as foreign-backed riots with a violent crackdown in which the Norway-based group Iran Human Rights says at least 448 people have been killed, including 60 children. More than 18,000 others are reported to have been arrested.
Belgium Out Of W/Cup
Belgium have been knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage as Croatia progressed at their expense with a goalless draw in Qatar.
Roberto Martinez’s side, who finished third in Russia four years ago and are ranked second in the world, have had a disappointing tournament with just one win and one goal in their three matches
They produced another lacklustre display against Croatia despite knowing victory was necessary to progress to the last 16.
Substitute Romelu Lukaku had numerous chances in the second half but his failure to convert any sealed his country’s fate.
Lukaku, searching for sharpness following injury, hit the post from in front of goal, poked an effort wide when well-placed and reacted too slowly when the ball hit him in the six-yard box in stoppage time.
Croatia, finalists in 2018, got the point they needed to progress from Group F as runners-up, with Morocco taking top spot thanks to a 2-1 win against Canada.
Zlatko Dalic’s side will face the winners of Group E , which is currently Spain, in the last 16.
Belgium players fell to the turf at full-time as their supporters behind the goal politely applauded them off the pitch.
Lukaku, who replaced Dries Mertens at half-time, came into the game with intent and immediately brought energy and purpose to his side.
But his missed opportunities in the second half proved costly, with each one bringing an audible collective groan from the stands and the on-loan Inter Milan striker punched the dugout in frustration after the final whistle.
Croatia were not especially convincing, their most threatening moment was a first-half penalty award being ruled out by VAR because of an offside infringement in the build-up – but did enough to secure progression.
They did however look a level below what they showed to reach the final in Russia four years ago and their celebrations were fairly subdued after scraping through.
Germany Crash Out Of World Cup Despite 4-2 Defeat Of Costa Rica
Germany crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage for the second time in succession despite a 4-2 win against Costa Rica on Thursday.
The four-time World Cup winners came into the match needing a win but were also relying on the result of Japan’s game with Spain to progress.
But the Germans were eliminated due to goal difference as Japan followed up their defeat of Germany with another shock result by beating Spain 2-1.
Germany took an early lead but briefly fell behind in the second half as coach Hansi Flick made a flurry of changes, reacting to the live score of the Japan v Spain fixture.
The Germans started positively, with Flick’s all-Bayern Munich front line turning the screws early, battering the Costa Rica defence before Serge Gnabry got his head to a curling cross from Leipzig defender David Raum after 10 minutes to open the scoring.
Midfielder Leon Goretzka almost doubled Germany’s lead just five minutes later but his header was directly at Keylor Navas.
Complacency began to creep into Germany’s game. Keysher Fuller, Costa Rica’s goal-scoring hero in a 1-0 win against Japan, forced Manuel Neuer into a fingertip save after some half-hearted defending from Raum and Antonio Ruediger.
Flick moved Kimmich back to his familiar defensive midfield position at half-time, bringing on Lukas Klostermann at the expense of Goretzka, who like Kimmich started the match on a yellow.
Just seven minutes into the second half, word crept around the vast Lusail Stadium that Japan had scored two quick goals to take the lead against Spain, a result which would force Germany out of the tournament.
Flick reacted immediately, bringing on Niclas Fuellkrug and taking off another midfielder in Ilkay Gundogan.
Germany appeared disjointed as Costa Rica went on the counter on the 58-minute mark, the ball rebounding off Neuer and into the path of Yeltsin Tejeda, who slammed it home.
Flick continued to chase the game, making more changes but it was Costa Rica who scored next when Juan Pablo Vargas tapped a free kick past Neuer to put his side past Spain and into the Round of 16. The goal was later recorded as an own goal.
Germany hit back minutes later through Chelsea forward Kai Havertz to draw level.
Havertz scored again in the 86th minute and Fuellkrug added another in the 89th minute to bring the score to 4-2, but the side’s focus remained nervously fixed on the group’s parallel fixture.
The night ended with Germany losing out to second-placed Spain on goal difference.
It means Germany, who had not missed out on the knockout stages of a World Cup for 80 years until the 2018 tournament in Russia, have been bundled out in the group stage for the second World Cup in a row.
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