Continental kings prepare for finals

With only two months to go before the start of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, hosts Korea Republic welcome seven qualified teams from across the globe to a mini tournament which starts on Saturday.

Although there are no European representatives, no less than five regional champions will participate in the week-long competition: eight-time South American U-17 champions Brazil, tournament regulars USA, reigning Asian champions Japan, Africa's Golden Eaglets Nigeria, and newly crowned Oceanian kings New Zealand.

Six out of eight venues for Korea 2007 - namely Changwon, Cheonan, Gangyang, Goyang, Suwon and Ulsan - will have dress rehearsals for the tournament, while the remaining two cities (Jeju and Seoul) proved themselves capable of staging a world finals five years ago.

Final tests
Curtain raisers for Group A will be held in Goyang, with Korea Republic taking on Brazil and Haiti facing off against Ghana on Saturday. Coach Park Kyung-Hoon thinks the group matches will provide a good opportunity to prepare for the finals, where the hosts will meet Peru, Costa Rica and Togo. "I'm relieved to have a chance to play against a strong African side like Ghana. Haiti are also a good team who finished first in their qualifying group," said the 45-year-old.

While the Brazilians have sent a strong party, including talismanic attacking midfielder Lulinha and star forward Maicon, Haiti may have a difficult time adapting to a week in the Far East. The Islanders had to reinforce their squad after 13 players missed their flight to Seoul, the newcomers arriving only 11 hours before kick-off.

Group B, meanwhile, looks even more intriguing due to all four teams reigning as champions of their respective continents in the youth category. USA coach John Hackworth believes the tournament will be a turning point in their preparations. "This will be a very good tournament for our players to go up against quality competition. (Before the finals) We'll also try and get to South Korea early to get accustomed to the time difference," he said.

Japan, coached by Hiroshi Jofuku, are set to entertain USA in their opening game in Gwangyang. Although their brightest star Yoichiro Kakitani could not make the trip due to his club commitments, Japan's top marksman in qualifying, Jin Hanato, will again be present to lead their line.

After the group stage, the two runners-up will play off for third place, before the group winners face each other for the title in Cheonan on Saturday, 23 June.

Eight-nation U-17 tournament

Group Stage
16-21 June 2007

Group A (Goyang, Suwon, Cheonan)
Korea Republic

Group B (Gwangyang, Changwon, Ulsan)
New Zealand

Third PlacePlay-off
23 June 2007
Between the runners-up in groups A & B

23 June 2007
Between the winners of groups A & B