Fireworks in the offing
© LOC

Magic and suspense are the two ingredients guaranteed to make any competition draw memorable and both were in full supply as the 24 sides involved in the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 learned their destiny on Friday. Held at the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Abuja, the draw for the final tournament proved a major hit with both guests and participants, as well as conjuring up a number of mouth-watering group-stage encounters.

The 13th edition of FIFA's third-oldest tournament will be held between 24 October and 15 November, and the organisers went to great lengths to make this first major gathering an event to remember from both a sporting and cultural point of view. Nigeria is a richly diverse country, with its 140 million inhabitants – a fifth of the total African population – made up of a large number of ethnic groups such as the Hausa, Igbo, Kanuri, Nupe, Tiv and Yoruba, and that diversity was splendidly reflected in a ceremony full of colour, costumes, chants and traditional dances.

The mascot makes his entrance
Before the serious business of composing the groups began, the assembled dignitaries were introduced to a very special guest set to take Nigeria by storm in the next few months. The eaglet was unveiled as the tournament mascot and, in addition to proving a very amiable and dynamic creature, the bird of prey recalled both the nickname of the country's U-17 team, the Golden Eaglets, and the deep feeling Nigeria has for this animal. The mascot symbolises the strength of the Nigerian people as well as their friendliness and passion for football.

He eats, sleeps and breathes football! And it goes without saying that he cannot wait to welcome Planet Football to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, which will take place at venues in Abuja, Bauchi, Calabar, Enugu, Ijebu-Ode, Kaduna, Kano and Lagos. "I visited all the candidate cities three or four times and we've decided to retain eight of them," explained FIFA vice-president and Chairman of the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, Jack A. Warner, in his speech. "These eight venues are running perfectly on schedule, which proves that Nigeria is just as efficient as any other country."

Nigerian Vice-President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan admitted to feeling honoured to see his country host such an important tournament. "I thank FIFA for having believed in us and having made this project a reality," he said. For his part, the Chairman of the National Sports Commission, Sani M. Ndanusa, promised that, "As with this draw, Nigeria is ready to do its best to make this tournament a peaceful event and something that will leave a legacy for the whole country in terms of development and sport."

Challenge for the hosts
Right on cue, sport then took centre stage as the FIFA Director of Competitions, Jim Brown, and his illustrious assistants began their important task. Among the great champions presiding at the event were Mercy Akide, the first African to be named FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, in 2002, who appeared in three FIFA Women's World Cups, not forgetting Victor Ikpeba, Tijjani Babangida, Samson Siasia and goalkeeper Peter Rufa, whoi spurred the Super Eagles on to some of their greatest moments. Last but not least, Nduka Ugbade captained the Nigerian side that won the very first FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1985.

Together they also set up some fantastic encounters, filling the group stage with a number of intriguing fixtures, not least the opening match between Nigeria and Germany. Overall, the fates did not smile kindly on the hosts as the Golden Eaglets will also have to face Argentina and Honduras in their section.

Among the other matches sure to light up the group stage, the games between Brazil and Japan, Spain and USA, and Uruguay and Italy look just as likely to produce fireworks. Indeed, if suspense was the order of the day in the run-up to the draw, that has now given way to expectation. So roll on 24 October and the start of what looks certain to be a superb festival of football.

To find the full schedule of games, click on the link in the column on the right