Curiosity, anticipation, enthusiasm: Kaduna can hardly wait for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 to get underway on Saturday 24 October. Over the past few days, the Ahmadu Bello Stadium has developed into an epicentre for the passionate local residents of the northern metropolis, where it seems everyone is a football fanatic.
It truly is a fascinating sight as dozens of fans gather in front of the stadium's main entrance in the blazing sun, seeking out the shade so they can discuss the imminent arrival of the stars of tomorrow. Legions of men and children, as well as women dressed in colourful traditional attire, proudly observe as the finishing touches are made ahead of this eagerly anticipated tournament in their homeland.
You can see the excitement on Joshua Oladipupo's face. The 31-year-old IT expert is originally from the Nigerian capital Abuja but learned of the good-natured people of Kaduna long ago. "They're football-mad. There were over 200 people here just for the Korea Republic's training session yesterday and there are kids chasing footballs all over the place," he told FIFA.com.
Certainly, Kaduna is a positive place to be and over the past few weeks the city has attracted the attention of the rest of the football world. "It's difficult to describe the feeling in words. We're just very, very happy, because it's so wonderful to be able to welcome so many people from all over the world to our city," says Habila Abba. The 23-year-old builder can hardly believe that the likes of Uruguay, Italy, Algeria and the Korea Republic will soon be fighting it out for a world title in his home town.
Support for Korea Republic
Many of the local fans in this football-crazy city, which is around two hours north of Abuja by car, are especially keen to see the Asian teams do well. "We're supporting Korea Republic because they play total football," explained James Igah, whose hat bears the crest of Eintracht Frankfurt, the German club where Nigerian legend Jay-Jay Okocha first made his name.
Many of the people surrounding the Ahmadu Bello Stadium agree with Igah's views. Numerous men and women nod approvingly as the quiet elderly football anorak praises the Koreans' energy and style. "We hope they go far in this tournament," calls another enthusiast from towards the back of the crowd.
Pride, enthusiasm and magic
The hosts of the previous FIFA U-17 World Cup have been astounded by the warm reception they have received in Nigeria. "I think it's because they have good memories of Nigeria winning the last tournament in the Korea Republic. We're very proud to hear that they're rooting for us," said coach Lee Kwang Jong when he spoke to FIFA.com at the team hotel.
Kwang Jong is not the only one hoping to reward the people of Kaduna with an entertaining display football over the coming days and weeks. All the teams in Group F agree that the unrivalled enthusiasm of this bustling city in the heart of Nigeria has earned them the right to enjoy what is shaping up to be a true football festival.