Kano, a football hotbed
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The Round of 16 duel between Spain and Burkina Faso brought the curtain down on Kano's State's involvement at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009. Boasting the highest population density in the country, with more than nine million inhabitants, Kano State and its capital city of Kano extended the warmest of welcomes to Spain, USA, UAE and Malawi, the four teams contesting Group E, not forgetting Italy and Uruguay, who contested their final group game there.

And as the Spain and Burkinabe players trooped from the field at the end of Thursday's match, the local fans gave them a hearty round of applause, a sign of their gratitude for the wonderful entertainment they have received over the last two weeks.

"We have seen some great football in the seven games we've had here," said brothers Mike and Joseph, while acclaiming the Spanish players on their lap of honour around the Sani Abacha Stadium. "It has made the whole city very proud to be one of the venues for this World Cup."

I'd never seen the Spain or USA players before and it's great to be so close to them. I'm sure I'll be seeing them on TV in a couple of years, and then I can tell everyone, ‘I saw that player in the flesh a few years ago'.
Kano football fan, Ibrahim

Kano is a city that lives and breathes football. Taking shelter from the burning sun, families and friends gather beneath acacia trees to discuss some aspect or other of the game. And when the heat of the day finally subsides, youngsters venture out into the streets for impromptu kickabouts.

One hot topic in recent times has been the form and fortunes of local heroes Kano Pillars, who won the Nigerian league title last year, earning themselves a place in the 2009 CAF Champions League in the process.

To the delight of their fans, the Pillars knocked out defending champions Al-Ahly of Egypt in the second round before going on to win a berth in the semi-finals of Africa's most prestigious club competition for the first time in their history. Unfortunately for them, compatriots Heartland put an end to their run last month, though the arrival of the FIFA U-17 World Cup quickly lifted spirits.

"We've been enjoying some good football in Kano lately," said Amos, a sports commentator for Radio Kano. "People have been following Kano Pillars' progress in the CAF Champions League and they've been thoroughly enjoying it. It's made us all so happy."

"A lot of young people to have decided to take up the game and that's giving us even more encouragement," added football correspondent Mohammed while taking in a UAE training session along with FIFA.com. "It has also been wonderful to have the U-17 World Cup taking place here in our city. Football is everywhere."

More than a game
That passion was plain to see during the matches staged at the Sani Abacha Stadium, where the ‘Sold Out' signs went up before every game. As well as cheering on the players with their songs and blaring vuvuzelas, the Kanawa, as the townsfolk are known, also waited in numbers at the gates to the stadium and the training ground in a bid to catch a glimpse of the players hoping to go on and become the stars of tomorrow.

"I'd never seen the Spain or USA players before and it's great to be so close to them," said a young boy by the name of Ibrahim, who, like his friends, hopes to run out at the Sani Abacha one day. "I'm sure I'll be seeing them on TV in a couple of years, and then I can tell everyone, ‘I saw that player in the flesh a few years ago'."

The players and coaches based in Kano for the last couple of weeks have been grateful to the fans for their vociferous backing, among them Spain coach Gines Melendez. "I'd like to thank the people of Kano for all the support they've given us. The amount of people who have come to see us at each training session and especially at the stadium has been incredible. It's fantastic to see a full ground for an U-17 match."

The Spanish attracted the loudest cheers of all, along with United Arab Emirates. Melendez's side were applauded for their stylish football, with more than a few locals pulling on a Spain shirt in appreciation. Meanwhile, the Asian side were greeted by a sea of UAE flags every time they played, not to mention a sizeable contingent of their compatriots, who had made the long journey from the Gulf to urge their side on.

No doubt those travellers found a similarly warm welcome in the northern footballing outpost, which, thanks to its football-mad citizens, is sure to be back in the limelight before too long.