Youngsters on the road to Peru 2005
After successfully staging the 41st edition of the Copa America last summer, preparations are well underway in Peru for the FIFA U-17 World Championship, which is to be held from 16 September - 2 October this year.
Sixteen countries will attempt to emulate holders Brazil, who so thrilled spectators in Finland two years ago. Lima, Chiclayo, Piura, Trujillo and Iquitos will all bear witness to the next generation of stars.
Only the names of the countries that will represent Asia are known thus far. China, Korea DPR and Qatar booked their tickets last September in the AFC qualifying tournament, which saw China win the continental title for the first time in twelve years.
The stage is set for a tense April and May, when the rest of the confederations will hold their respective qualifying tournaments. The European teams kicked off the preliminary qualifying rounds in Italy last August, but the three countries that will represent the continent will not be known until May. In Africa, meanwhile, CAF will stage a qualifying tournament from 7-21 May in Gambia to select their three representatives.
In the first fortnight in April, South America's best young footballers will come together in Maracaibo, Venezuela to determine which two teams will join Peru, who are already automatically qualified as hosts. Should Peru reach the final of the qualifying tournament, the third-placed team will then join the two finalists at the World Championship.
In New Caledonia, the cream of antipodean youth will be fighting it out for one qualifying spot from 2-15 April. Will Australia represent the OFC again this year? Then comes the turn of the Concacaf Confederation. Hosts Costa Rica, USA, El Salvador and Cuba meet in San José from 12-16 April to decide the Zone's first qualifier. Four days later, Canada will play Mexico, Honduras and Haiti on home soil, with the winner taking Concacaf's second and final qualifying spot.
The coming months promise all the excitement and passion that young footballers brings to the sport and, who knows, maybe the emergence of a superstar of the future.