Iran will contest their third game of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 in the football-mad southern coastal city of Calabar on Thursday, when they welcome South Americans Uruguay to the U.J. Esuene stadium. The Asian champions have been going good guns so far, topping their section with a sturdy defensive record while the South Americans only just edged into the knockout stages as one of the best third-place finishers.
The group stages are a thing of the past now at Nigeria 2009, meaning each game is a do-or-die affair from here on out. It will be a case of win or go home in Calabar when Uruguay make their first visit to the venue. The Iranians have yet to concede a goal in their three group matches, setting themselves up as one of the defensive bastions of these U-17 finals. The rearguard is led ably by the Zob-Ahan-based trio of captain Ali Goudarzi, Iman Shirazi and Bahman Maleki. In attack the young Team Melli have been slightly less assured, but they did manage three goals in Group C thanks in large part to the attacking play of striker Payam Sedeghian and creative sparkplug Afshin Esmaeil.
Uruguay, for their part, can boast only of having survived a tricky Group F over in Kaduna. They bounced back admirably from a 3-1 loss in their opener to Korea Republic, beating Algeria and drably drawing Italy to book a place in the knockout stages. Despite not having lit up the round-robin pool rounds, The Celeste do have in their side one of the most exciting attacking talents of these finals in Atletico Madrid starlet Sebastian Gallegos. The young Spain-based hit-man, and the impressive Adrian Luna too, will likely give Iran's perfect defence their first real test of these finals.
2 - This is only the second time in history that an Iranian national team have reached beyond the group stages of a FIFA competition, the first being the Olympic Football Tournament in Montreal in 1976.
"We know Uruguay have some very good attacking players; if they didn't they wouldn't be here. But if they were as good as us, they would have finished top of their group instead of third." Ali Gouzardi, Iran defender
"We have tried to rest a lot in these days before the round of 16. This U-17 World Cup is very hard on the players with the climate and the quality of the teams. Now, we are gearing up to face Iran and we will be ready." Roland Marcenaro, Uruguay coach