Argentina and Nigeria will lock horns on Friday in the third and final round of encounters in Group A, and there is little doubt the match will be a hotly contested affair. Ahead of the game, the two teams made the trip together from Abuja, their base since the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 kicked off, to Bauchi, where whoever comes out on top will secure first place in the section. Despite the contest to come, the atmosphere conjured up by the two sides was nothing short of memorable, with music, dancing and smiles all around. FIFA.com also went along for the ride.
Not for the first time in Nigeria, the day began with a long wait. The two countries' delegations had roused themselves early to pack their bags and take the short bus ride to the airport, but they soon found themselves in a seemingly endless queue to check their luggage, followed by two hours spent killing time. It was enough to boil anyone's blood.
Having both won matches the previous day, however, Argentina and Nigeria proved to be no ordinary passengers. "We're exhausted but the boys are in great form," a member of the Argentinian delegation explained. "They're happy with the win yesterday and are a lot more relaxed now that they've qualified."
One of the key performers against Germany the day before, Daniel Villalva then took central stage once again to inject a little fun into proceedings. The River Plate forward proved just as adept with a sound system as he is with a ball, filling the waiting room with Argentinian cumbia, a traditional genre of music very popular in South America. His colleagues responded immediately, clapping and singing along with the tunes.
A wall separated the two teams and on the other side of it, the Nigerians were calmly relaxing in their seats. Some watched highlights of their match on the television screens, while others, such as Edafe Egbedi, one of the more influential players against Honduras, read press reports of the game. "It's a joy to see that we made people happy," he said with a smile after taking in an article entitled 'Eaglets keep hopes alive'.
"This victory puts us back on track for qualification and we intend to finish the job against Argentina." What, then, did he make of the youngsters enjoying themselves in the very next room? "Today we've been talking and joking together and we're happy to be travelling with them, but on Friday there'll be no more smiles or handshakes. It'll be like a battle."
Before we got a chance to talk tactics, it was time to board the plane. Villalva and his inseparable friend Jorge Balbuena continued to set the mood through music before take-off and the impromptu party even managed to rope in the captain, who took a moment to greet his South American and Nigerian guests.
At the back of the aircraft, the Golden Eaglets kept time with their hands as the refreshments arrived - a glass of water for everyone, except Abdul Ajagun. "He scored the goal yesterday, so he gets a litre of fruit juice," explained Katia, air stewardess and passionate supporter of the team. Naturally, the midfielder passed the bottle around to his team-mates, much as he distributes the ball on the pitch.
The festivities quietened down during the short flight as the players briefly dozed off, but after another hour of waiting around at the modest airport in Gombe, the mood picked up again on the vehicles taking the two sides to Bauchi. On the Argentinian coach, cumbia filled the air once again and glasses of the infusion mate, another South American staple, were passed out, while African music spilled out of the speakers on their rivals' coach, with many players singing along. Despite the noise, the Nigerian players opting for a little sleep in the back rows seemed more than capable of getting the rest they needed.
After more than an hour on the road, driving through villages whose inhabitants jumped with joy as the talented youngsters rolled past, the shared journey finally came to an end in the hotel lobby, with everyone retiring to their own rooms. The players have already made plans to meet up again on the pitch, of course, but the ambience is sure to be vastly different.