They have held the whole world in their hands: Leonard and Hannatu have carried the flags of countries from five different confederations over the past two weeks. The two 11-year-olds are part of a group of children who have been specially selected to carry the giant flags during the national anthems in the host city of Kaduna.
For Leonard, the chance is a dream come true: "It's amazing! When we run onto the pitch with these giant flags, I know that everyone in the stadium is watching us. What an honour," he told FIFA.com. Asked whether he gets nervous at all, Leonard cheekily replied: "Me? Nervous? Never!"
"He has to say that, he's the leader," said Hannatu with a smile. "Leonard is the one who has to shout 'stop' when we come out and take our positions on the pitch." The two youngsters appear to be enjoying themselves immensely as the stars of tomorrow dazzle the home crowds with displays of top-class football. Leonard comes from the state of Jos, Hannatu from Adamawa.
Both have made the long journey to Kaduna for the sole purpose of carrying the national flags onto the pitch. For these children, who only met a few weeks ago but have already become firm friends, it has been an unforgettable experience. Following a nationwide selection process by Coca-Cola, they were picked out from their schools to walk out onto the pitch with players from all over the globe in Kaduna. For a few moments at least, Hannatu and Leonard are the stars.
'They're very proud of me'
Their favourite player is Didier Drogba and both are big Chelsea fans. As for Nigeria 2009, there can only be one winner in Leonard's eyes: "Nigeria of course," he beams. His friend is slightly more reserved with her opinion and blushes as Leonard blurts out her favourite. "She wants Italy to win," reveals the boy before receiving an irreverent glance from Hannatu.
However, it seems that she is the football aficionado out of the two. While Leonard admits he rarely plays himself, Hannatu told how she plays "almost every day - normally with my big brothers. They're very proud of me." And they're not the only ones. The whole of Nigeria has every reason to be proud of their children and young people who as players, fans, and of course flag bearers, have made the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009 a tournament to remember.