This article profiles Nigeria’s group opponents at this year’s Fifa U-17 World Cup set to take place in the United Arab Emirates
By Shina Oludare
Though the Nigeria U-17 team, the Golden Eaglets have been tipped for glory in this year’s world cadet tourney set to get underway in a couple of days, Goal takes a look at the countries Garba Manu's side will be facing in Group F, and could serve as likely threats to the title winning ambitions of the three-time world champions.
The defending world U-17 champions will pose the biggest threat to Nigeria’s chances of making it out of this group and possibly winning the trophy for a record fourth time. El Tri under coach Raul El Potro Gutierrez will be making their 11th appearance in this global fiesta and will aim at defending the crown they secured on home soil two years back.
After their debut triumph in Peru 2005, the ‘El Tri’ rookies proved to the world that they are no pushovers when they kissed the trophy six years ago.
To qualify for this competition, the Mexicans beat all comers in the regional qualifying tournament by silencing the likes of Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama to secure their sixth CONCACAF diadem.
What makes this team tick is their ability to score goals and remain resolute in defence. This attributes to the fact why they possess the best goal scoring records of CONCACAF’s four teams that will be in the United Arab Emirates scoring 14 goals and letting in just three from five games.
Players to watch
If there is one player to be wary of, it is certainly Marco Antonio Granados. The skilful forward propelled his team to win their regional diadem by scoring four goals in four appearances with many assists. His blistering speed will definitely be of a great disadvantage to opposing defenders. Others to watch out for include Luis Enrique Hernandez and Francisco Calderon.
Unlike the Mexicans that will be staging their 11th appearance at this tourney, the Scandinavians will be making their debut appearance at the Fifa U17 World Cup two years after coming as newcomers to the preceding Uefa U-17 European Championship.
Should Roland Larsson’s boys crash out of the group stage, they will have nothing to lose having in mind that they parade a large number of untested players. The Europeans qualified for UAE 2013 after putting up a spectacular showing during their continental championship before bowing to eventual winners, Russia in a keenly contested semi final which ended on penalties.
One interesting fact about this side blessed with athleticism is that the Swedes squad members were born in 1996 except for Motala AIF FK of Sweden defender Ali Suljic who was born on 18th September 1997 which makes him the youngest in Larsson’s 21-man squad.
Players to watch
Captain fantastic Elias Andersson is one player many will tip to shine for the Scandinavians when the tournament gets underway. The Helsingborg player will be counting on his intimidating presence in the centre of the park to scare away opposing strikers. Also, should Valmir Berisha be at his best, then opposing teams are in trouble as his goal scoring exploits are expected to propel his team to the knock out stages.
Despite their appearance at the Fifa World Cup and the Fifa World Youth Championships, they had never managed to qualify for the U-17until late last year, when a last-four slot at the AFC U-16 Championship earned them a berth at UAE 2013.
The Iraqis qualified for this championship by booking a slot at the 2012 AFC U-16 Championship in Iran. They began on a flying note dismissing Oman and Thailand, before drawing 0-0 with Australia. The ensuing penalty shoot-out in that match saw the Iraqis come out on top, a result that secured top spot in their group. They breezed past Kuwait 3-1 in the quarter-finals but suffered a heavy defeat in the hands of Japan in the last four.
Coach Muwaffaq Husein’s young Lions of Mesopotamia will be parading mostly players that rose to prominence at the recent AFC U-16 and Arab U-17 Championships.
Players to watch
Goal monger, Sherko Lateef, as well as Samer Majeed will be banked on by coach Muwaffaq to make their debut outing worthwhile in the United Arab Emirates. Another player to watch out for is Al Kahraba of Iraq’s defence marshal, Alaa Ali Mhawi and Mohammed Shakir who plays for Diyala FC.