Group C of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 features a fearsome cross section of accomplished and confident sides from all over the globe, including a pair of continental champions and the runners-up from Europe. Iran arrive in West Africa boasting much-heralded ace striker Kaveh Rezaei, who scored no less than six goals as the junior Team Melli roared to claim the Asian U-16 crown last year. Similarly, Gambia - playing close to home - are reigning champions of Africa for the second time on the trot and will be eager to make a mark on proceedings in Calabar.
The Netherlands arrive in Nigeria with a solid, if unspectacular, squad that stretched hosts Germany to finish runners-up in the UEFA qualifying competition. Underdogs Colombia round out the section's combatants, and the fourth-place finishers from South America look likely to struggle without injured star Edwin Cardona.
The matches (all kick-offs in local time)
Iran-Gambia, Calabar, 25 October, 16:00
Colombia-Netherlands, Calabar, 25 October, 19:00
Netherlands-Gambia, Calabar, 28 October, 16:00
Iran-Colombia, Calabar, 28 October, 19:00
Gambia-Colombia, Calabar, 31 October, 16:00
Netherlands-Iran, Enugu, 31 October, 16:00
How they qualified
Iran: Champions of last year's Asian U-16 championship
Gambia: African champions after winning the CAF U-17 championship
Colombia: Fourth-place finishers at the South American championship
Netherlands: Runners-up at the U-17 championship in Germany
The four hopefuls in Group C will be based in Calabar, a city of 1.2 million near the Cameroon border on Nigeria's easternmost stretch of coast. The capital of Cross River State, the major shipping port is also known as a major hub of Nigerian tourism thanks to its natural beauty and fine coastline. Calabar, with centuries-old connections to the English maritime tradition, stands out in Nigeria's sporting history for having hosted the first organised football matches in the nation.
The crunch match: Netherlands-Gambia
The Dutch youth system - renowned for producing some of the most technically gifted players on the planet - has been ironically unable to achieve much team success at youth or junior level. Current coach Albert Stuivenberg is hoping to turn that around, and can call on the talents of standout striker Luc Castaignos to help get the job done. Gambia, a rising power on the African youth circuit and continental champions twice running, may well pose a significant stumbling block the Jong Oranje's ambitions, however, when the two meet in the second round of games at the U. J. Esuene Stadium.
The opening gambit
"We find ourselves in a very even group with no clear favourites. The Dutch live up to their reputation; their players are skilful and tactically well-organised. Gambia are a typical African side, physically strong and direct in attack. We are still studying Iran but we know that they rely very much on (Kaveh) Razaei, their key man in attack," Colombia coach Ramiro Viafara.