Former Nigeria internationals and technical advisers to the Airtel Rising Stars(ARS) teams, Peter Rufai, MutiuAdepoju, GarbaLawal, Ann Chiejinne and Olympic Gold Medalist, ChiomaAjunwa-Oparah will be leading their respective teams out for honours when the National Finals of the season four of the annual ARS U-17 tournament gets underway in Lagos on Wednesday, July 30 at the Sports Complex of the Yaba College of Technology,Yaba.
These teams comprise a total of 160 players in the male and female categories from five zones namely Port Harcourt, Enugu, Ilorin, Abuja and Lagos. They qualified for the National Championship after emerging champions at the respective zonal championships concluded recently.
The four-day national finals promises to offer best of grassroots football laced with excitement, entertainment and fun with football artistry on display from the participating youngsters. The winner of the National Championship in each category will represent the country at the Africa Championship to be hosted in Gabon in the last week of August.
Port Harcourt zone will be represented in the male and female categories by Rivers State which defeated Delta and Akwa Ibom states in the respective categories in the final matches played inside the Sharks Stadium, Port Harcourt. The teams have Chioma Ajunwa-Oparah as the technical adviser.
Ex-Super Falcons Goal Keeper, Ann Chiejinne will be leading the duo of White Chiefs FC and White Princesses FC, both of Enugu to fly the flag of the zone at the National Finals after they emerged champions in the male and female categories respectively.
Former Super Eagles midfielder, MutiuAdepoju is in charge of the Ilorin zone represented by Kwara State in both categories after the State’s teams defeated their counterparts from Ekiti to pick the single tickets to the National Championship.
Abuja Zone has the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Plateau State for both the male and female categories. They will be led to the National Championship by Ex- Super Eagles Midfielder and member, Technical Committee of the NFF, Garba Lawal.
Lagos zone, under the guide of former Super Eagles Goal Tender, Peter ‘Dodo mayana’ Rufai, will be represented by Oyo State in the male category and Lagos in the female category.
Meanwhile, some of the technical advisers have expressed optimism in the quality and readiness of their teams to vie for honours at the National Championship.
Ilorin zone technical adviser, Mutiu Adepoju expects a good outing at the Championship.
“With the calibre of players inherent in the zone, I am sure of a good outcome at the national championship later in the month in Lagos. We have the players that can make us proud,” he enthused.
Also speaking, the technical adviser of Port Harcourt zone, Chioma Ajunwa-Oparah expressed confidence in the ability of her teams to live up to tournament expectation. She revealed that the final 16 players for each team were selected through a rigorous and transparent process that enabled the technical team to pick only the best from among the thousands of youngsters that featured in the zonal screening and championship.
The ARS U-17 tournament, a pan-African initiative of Airtel Africa, is designed to provide support for the development of football talents across Nigeria. It aims at discovering talented male and female footballers under the age of 17 and providing them with platform to gain football skills and develop into professional footballers.
The tournament enjoys the support of football bodies such as Lagos State Football Association (LSFA), Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON) and Arsenal Football Club.