The opening game of the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria's Group C pits two continental champions in direct competition. Iran, reigning kings of Asia, will be slight favourites against African toppers Gambia, who lost 11 influential players in a squad shake-up last month. The Iranians' slick passing and smooth technique will be seriously tested by the athletic and defensively astute Africans as the U.J. Esuene Stadium opens its doors for action.
In a section that also includes European runners-up the Netherlands and South American grafters Colombia, both the Iranians and Gambians will be keen to put some points on the board and get among the goals early. Gambia may well struggle after coach Tariq Saigy dropped 11 important players last month over concerns regarding the random age tests to be conducted here in Nigeria. Even so, the best of the best in Africa will be bolstered by the fact that at their only previous U-17 world finals - in 2005 in Peru - the Baby Scorpions opened with a sensational 3-1 win over mighty Brazil.
Iran are also playing in only their second FIFA U-17 World Cup and coach Ali Doustimehr has set the bar high. Having proclaimed publicly that he expects a place among the top three here in Nigeria, it remains to be seen if the boss's bluster will have the desired effect of spurring the lads, or heaping too much pressure on their young shoulders at the outset. A win on Sunday would be the first-ever for the Middle Eastern nation at a U-17 finals, as they lost all three of their games at Trinidad and Tobago 2001.
2 - The number of goals scored by Iran at the FIFA U-17 world finals. Both came from current PAS Hamedan FC man Mansour Ahmadzadeh at T&T 2001, in the last ten minutes of their meeting with Paraguay.
"No matter what, we come in as champions of Africa and we feel the pressure to defend our title. Our strength will come from our defence, which is spirited and athletic. We have to wait and see. After our first game here we will know how we measure up. We're waiting to see what happens," Gambia coach Tariq Saigy.
"The junior Team Melli features the most promising young talents from our country, who are in their best condition. Our team have no weaknesses otherwise we wouldn't have won the Asian championship last year. I have a strong faith in my team and I believe we can return from Nigeria as one of the medallists," Iran coach Ali Doustimehr.