In one of Thursday's standout fixtures at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, Group F rivals Korea Republic and Italy will be hoping to make it two wins from two when they square off at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium. While the tactically astute southern Europeans celebrated a narrow 1-0 opening victory over Algeria on Monday, the disciplined east Asians recorded a convincing 3-1 win over Uruguay. The winners of Thursday's match in Kaduna will be all but assured of a place in the knockout stages.
Korea Republic have every reason to be confident going into their clash with Italy, having reaffirmed their billing as the dark horses at Nigeria 2009 with an assured display against the Uruguayans. The Koreans have been modest about their capabilities allowing them to catch their opponents by surprise with explosive performances once they take to the turf. Indeed, if Kwang-Jong Lee's charges can deliver another energetic display of tactical superiority paired with fluent passing and physical strength on Thursday, the Azzurrini could well be in for a tough afternoon.
Meanwhile in the Italian camp there is an even greater air of optimism after Pasquale Salerno's side put in a typically proficient performance against Algeria without ever really showing their full potential. The team, built around bullish AC Milan striker Giacomo Beretta, certainly has the physical presence to ruffle the Koreans' feathers, and the Italians will doubtless try to stifle the east Asians' athleticism with their patient possession football. This will be the first big test for Salerno's ambitious starlets, who prepare for the match with a fully-fit squad at their disposal.
22 - Precisely the number of years that have passed since Italy and Korea Republic last met at a FIFA U-17 World Cup. The two sides clashed in the quarter-finals of Canada '87 with the Europeans running out 2-0 winners.
"I think Korea Republic are the most difficult opposition in the group, so this match is particularly important. They keep things tight at the back and they have bags of energy over the 90 minutes. Hopefully we'll be able to cope with the afternoon heat." Federico Carraro, Italy midfielder
"Our goal is to qualify for the next round, then we'll take things one game at a time." Kwang-Jong Lee, Korea Republic coach