Indeed, Caribbean islanders Haiti are acquiring the
habit of upsetting the apple cart. At the qualifying tournament for
the CONCACAF Zone, where everyone expected the Mexican world
champions to earn a place in Korea, it was the unfancied Haitians
who went through, leaving their celebrated regional neighbours to
watch the tournament from their armchairs.
Asian champions Japan celebrate their return to the FIFA U-17 World Cup fold after missing out on the last two editions. Their avowed objective is to do at least as well as in 1993, when they reached the quarter-finals on home turf.
Japan-Haiti, Gwangyang, 19 August, 19:00 (local time)
France and Nigeria get proceedings underway in Group D a few hours before Japan and Haiti enter the fray. The two acknowledged big guns are unlikely to emerge unscathed from their direct confrontation, so this is a dream opportunity for the Japanese and Haitians to garner confidence and points before taking on the might of the Mini-Bleus and Golden Eaglets.
Both camps are in the fortunate position of having full squads to choose from. Although Yoichiro Kakitani, the star striker of the Blue Samouraïs, left training early on Friday, he should be fit to take part.
The two countries are perfect strangers to each other, having never met in either a friendly or competitive match at any level.
"It's a difficult group where all the teams are very strong. All the matches will be finals, and finals have to be won." Yoichiro Kakitani, Japanese striker
"We know we're a small country, but that doesn't mean we've lost before a ball is kicked! Against Japan, just like against all other teams, we're going to play without fear, with the aim of winning and reaching the second round." Jean-Yves Labaze, Haiti coach.