Egypt '97 - Who will reach the top of the pyramid
Will Ghana reach the final of the U-17 World Championship again? Will Spain finally make it this time? Will Egypt make the most of home advantage? It is more difficult to make a prognosis about the World Championship for under 17's than any other, and speculation is permitted. We shall know more on the 21st September.
The under-17 World Championship for the FIFA/JVC Cup is quite simply the tournament of surprises. Since the first competition (then the U-16 World Tournament) in 1985 in China, the teams which have stamped their mark on the event have been those that had not been reckoned with, but which now belong to the established football nations. Nigeria (1985 in China and 1993 in Japan) and Saudi Arabia (1989 in Scotland) showed us the latent potential of these countries, which came to fruition in the World Cup in the USA in 1994. However, Ghana (winners in 1991 and 1995 and runners-up in 1993), have not been able to build on their success at this level, failing to establish themselves in either the continental championships or the FIFA World Cup. On the other hand, quite a stir has been created by their many legionnaires in clubs abroad.
Who will be at the top of the proverbial pyramid in September in Egypt remains to be seen. The fact that all the teams are newly formed makes it impossible to talk about a favourite in the normal way. Nevertheless, Brazil, Ghana and Spain are regarded as "certain" to be there in the final games of the tournament.. The host country, too, has genuine ambitions. For the first time ever, in May this year, in Botswana, the Footballing Pharaohs won the African Championship in this age group. Their aim now is to achieve what no host country of this event has ever achieved, namely, to make the most of home advantage and win the tournament. Scotland came closest to this in 1989, losing the Final to the Saudis on penalties.
The 16 finalists will meet ideal conditions in late summer in Egypt. Fresh breezes will help to keep them cool in Cairo, Ismailya, Port Said and Alexandria, the fashionable beach resort on the Mediterranean. All the stadiums are practically at sea-level, and are not more than 300 kilometers apart, ensuring that there will be no exhausting journeys involved for the players.
The stay of the young players will be made even more enjoyable by the fact that the Egyptian Organising Committee has chosen only those clubs with excellent training facilities. These many-sided clubs, relics from the time the British had a great interest in the Suez Canal, are now in effect oases for the upper classes, and will offer the visiting teams in autumn, in the same way as they do their members, an excellent infrastructure, with not only training pitches, but also tennis courts and swimming pools for relaxation. In such favourable conditions, and in such a fascinating land as Egypt, boredom will be out of the question.