Azteca awaits its day
© AFP

After a full 50 matches of this FIFA U-17 World Cup, the identities of the two teams that will battle it out for 90 minutes at the fabled Azteca are finally known. Hosts Mexico and Uruguay will climb onto one of the biggest and most storied stages in the history of the beautiful game with a world title on the line.

Although almost 25 years have passed since the Estadio Azteca last featured in a FIFA World Cup™, few stadiums can match its standing in the global game. It was the setting for the “Goal of the Century” – that unforgettable strike by Diego Maradona against England in 1986, a match that also produced his famously controversial ‘Hand of God’. Then there was the Final of the 1970 FIFA World Cup, where Brazil were crowned world champions with a display that has gone down in the annals of history.

The grand finale on 10 July will be the Azteca’s first game of the 14th U-17 world finals, a fitting venue to take up the reins of the ultimate match after Morelia, Monterrey, Queretaro, Torreon, Pachuca and Guadalajara did the heavy lifting. Known affectionately as El Coloso de Santa Úrsula (the Colossus of Saint Ursala – the district where the Azteca is located) the Azteca, which can hold over 100,000 fans, will also host the third-place game between Brazil and Germany.

A fitting tribute

The stadium’s hosting of two previous World Cup Finals paved the way for it to stage a third, as Justino Compean, President of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and the Mexican Football Association, explained to FIFA.com. "The Azteca is the only venue to have staged the Opening Match and Final of two World Cups. Given all it represents, there could be no better venue to host the deciding game [of Mexico 2011]."

The arena’s versatility has also enabled it to stage a host of other sporting events over the years. Vicente Saldivar and Julio Cesar Chavez, two of Mexico’s all-time boxing greats, both defended their world titles there.

The chance to grace the Estadio Azteca is a major incentive for any player. 
Mexico senior star and former U-17 champion Gio dos Santos

American football has frequently graced its turf too, including multiple instalments of the Tazón Azteca (Aztec Bowl) and the North American Football League’s American Bowl, as well as classic meetings between local rivals Pumas Dorados of UNAM and the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN). Some of the biggest names in the music industry have also played to Mexican audiences there, including Elton John, Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Luis Miguel, Lenny Kravitz and U2.

A champion’s advice

As for those Mexican and Uruguayan youngsters who are about to step onto the biggest stage of their lives, there is even a bit of advice from those who came before. Current Mexico senior standout and former U-17 World Champion from 2005, Giovani Dos Santos recently spoke to FIFA.com. “The chance to grace the Estadio Azteca is a major incentive for any player. To run out on a pitch of such symbolism and where Diego Maradona, for me the best player in history, reigned supreme is a great opportunity. It’s down to the players now to make the most of it,” he said.

Located in the south of Mexico City, the Azteca boasts 49 years of history, tradition and legend, including unforgettable fixtures at the 1970 and 1986 World Cups and the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup 1999, when the hosts famously beat Brazil 4-3. Revered for its colossal dimensions from the moment it was inaugurated, the stadium remains one of the largest in the world. Its current capacity is 105,064, or 105,065 if you count the ever-present ‘Nacho’, a statue in the stands erected in honour of one of its most frequent visitors.

Now after a 25-year-wait, this sleeping giant of world football is set to host another showpiece final. Which players earn the right to be crowned world champions there remain to be seen, but whoever they are - Mexican or Uruguayan - they can be sure of the best possible setting. The final word goes to the LOC President, who summed it up thus: “It’s a temple of football, and there is nowhere better for this occasion.”