When the best youths from two traditionally powerful footballing giants cross swords with two hungry challengers from north Africa and Asia, the mixture is set to be as enthralling as it is exotic. Lovers of this combination need look no further than Group F at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009 in Nigeria.
Italy and Uruguay, and Algeria and Korea Republic, will seek to use the Kaduna stage to enhance their standings in the junior game and create a headline or two. All four teams will be determined to lay out their credentials and perform with credit at the global showdown in west Africa, partly by way of compensation for occasional inconsistency in their respective continental championships.
The youngest generation from FIFA World Cup™ holders Italy, who were eliminated at the semi-final stage in the European championship, rate as overwhelming favourites in the section. One talking point will be the ability of the tactically mature southern Europeans to cope with the robust play favoured by the Uruguayans, who only secured their passage to Nigeria by a back-door route. Algeria and the South Koreans, each defeated in their continental finals, will be looking to upset the acknowledged big two in the section. Nevertheless, anything could happen in a pool where all the teams could beat any other on their day.
The matches (all kick-offs local time)
Uruguay Korea Republic, Kaduna, 26 October, 16:00
Algeria-Italy, Kaduna, 26 October, 19:00
Italy-Korea Republic, Kaduna, 29 October, 16:00
Uruguay-Algeria, Kaduna, 29 October, 19:00
Korea Republic-Algeria, Kaduna, 1 November, 19:00
Italy-Uruguay, Kano, 1 November, 19:00
How they qualified
Uruguay: Winners of the four-team play-off round for teams finishing second and third in their groups at the U-17 South American Championship Chile 2009.
Korea Republic: Second at the AFC Asian U-16 Championship Uzbekistan 2009.
Algeria: Second at the U-17 African Championship Algeria 2009.
Italy: Semi-finalists at the UEFA U-17 European Championship Germany 2009.
The main stage for Group F is Kaduna, a city of 1.5 million in the north of Nigeria. A trade fair centre and birthplace of Nigerian football idol Rashidi Yekini, Kaduna's arena is the 20,000 capacity Ahmadu Bello Stadium, where Uruguay, Algeria, Italy and Korea Republic will do battle for places in the knockout stage.
The one exception is the final group matchday, when the games kick off simultaneously. The meeting between Italy and Uruguay takes place in another 20,000 capacity ground, the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano, a metropolis of 3.6 million.
The crunch match: Italy-Uruguay
Should the two big-name nations in the group live up to their billing, and barring any upsets along the way, we could well see the youngsters representing the four-time FIFA World Cup winners from Europe and the two-time winners from South America go head-to-head for the honour of winning the section.
In fact, it would rate as a minor triumph for both teams if they were to meet in a form of final match to determine the group winners. Uruguay have lost their last five matches at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, only making it through to the knockout stage at the 1999 tournament in New Zealand. Italy's record is no better: they have sent their U-17 juniors to the finals on five occasions but also only survived the group stage once, in Canada way back in 1987.
The opening gambit
"We have a united and intelligent team featuring players who know what they want, and also earned that little bit of luck you need in the South American championship. If we can continue to count on these factors, we'll put up a fight in Nigeria," Roland Marcenaro, Uruguay coach