Italy will be in confident mood when they get their FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 campaign under way on Monday 26 October against Algeria. Strong favourites to top Group F, being played in Kaduna, anything less than three points in their opener will be seen as a disappointment for the Europeans. Opponents Algeria finished runners-up in the CAF qualifying tournament and will doubtless believe they have the ability to take the Azzurrini down a peg or two.
In front of what is expected to be a sizeable crowd at the Amadu-Bello Stadium, it will be interesting to see whether Algeria, as the only African team in the group, can take advantage of both the heat and the incredibly enthusiastic fans in the northern Nigerian city. Will that combination be enough for the Algerians to pull off the first big shock of the tournament, or can Italy use their greater experience and tactical awareness to hit the ground running? A fascinating match awaits.
While Algeria are making their debut in a FIFA World Cup final phase in this age group, this is Italy's sixth appearance - though only once have they got past the group stages. One statistic which might worry Pasquale Salerno and his youngsters is that Italy's U-17 teams have played African opposition on six occasions in the history of this tournament and only won twice, slipping to defeat on the other four occasions.
"We'll try to impose our style of play," Salerno explained to FIFA.com, though the coach knows that this will be no easy task. "At this age group it's really difficult for us to make headway because the sheer physical strength of the African and South American teams plays such a decisive role." Expectations are modest as far as Algeria are concerned and they will be hoping that this allows them to play above themselves. For Italy on the other hand, experience is the keyword. The Azzurrini have been playing together for two years already and have three players - goalkeeper Mattia Perin and midfielders Federico Carraro and Lorenzo Crisetig - who have already made their bow at U-21 level. Both teams will also be at full strength for the match with no injury worries at this early stage.
"We've been drawn against a solid and above all experienced opponent for our first match of the tournament, but I have every confidence in my players and I'm sure they'll prove just what they are capable of." Ibrir Othmane, Algeria coach.
"I'm confident we'll be able to go far at this tournament. Our main strength is that we really play as a team, and I think that a win against Algeria will be crucial to underscore the positive mind-set that we have." Pasquale Salerno, Italy coach.