Brazil, UAE grace hot opening day

As the sun begins to set on 17 October, all eyes will be on Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium, where the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 will officially get underway. Brazil take on Slovakia in the opening match, and the referee’s whistle will signal the start of three weeks of football, with 504 promising young players hoping to emulate the legions of stars who first made their mark at the junior showpiece.

The schedule for the opening day is a feast of four mouth-watering encounters split between Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah. Three-time title holders Brazil kick off their Group A campaign against the Slovaks, while hosts UAE will be treated to a rapturous reception when they take on Honduras in the group’s other game. In Group B, 2011 runners-up Uruguay will be hoping for a flying start when they meet New Zealand, and fireworks are expected as African champions Côte d’Ivoire take on an Italian side intent on lifting the trophy for the first time.

The schedule
Group A
Brazil-Slovakia (Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, 17:00)
UAE-Honduras (Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, 20:00)

Group B
Uruguay-New Zealand (Ras Al Khaimah, Emirates Stadium, 17:00)
Côte d’Ivoire-Italy (Ras Al Khaimah, Emirates Stadium, 20:00)

Match of the day
Côte d’Ivoire-Italy
The match between Côte d’Ivoire and Italy will be the third meeting between the two at this tournament, with the current tally standing at a win apiece. The Baby Elephants had their best ever finish at a U-17 World Cup when they made their debut appearance at Canada 1987, beating Italy 2-1 in extra time to claim third place. Italy had to wait 18 years to take their revenge at Peru 2005, defeating the west Africans 4-3 in a goal-fest of an opening match.

The African champions will be relying on a solid defence led by goalkeeper Seck Diabagate and Franck Kessie. For his part, Daniele Zoratto is keen to be the first coach to claim the trophy for Italy.

Other highlights
It will be experience versus ambition as Brazil take on Slovakia in Group A’s opening encounter. A Seleção are looking for a fourth U-17 World Cup trophy to add to their collection, while the debutant Slovaks are competing in the tournament as an independent nation for the first time.

Second up in Abu Dhabi are hosts UAE, who will be hoping to notch an important victory in front of the large crowds that are expected to gather at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Their opponents Honduras are out for a historic first win at the tournament, vital if they are to progress further.

Ras Al Khaimah plays host to the day’s other Group B game, as New Zealand look for revenge against the side that beat them 5-0 at the 1999 edition of the tournament. Uruguay coach Fabian Coito will be keen to claim three points before his side come up against the stiffer competition of Côte d’Ivoire and Italy.

Player to watch
Signing a professional contract with domestic powerhouse Santos this September, Gabriel is the standout player in a strong attacking line-up. Though the 1.78-metre-tall attacker did not feature in this year’s South America U-17 Championship hosted by Argentina, his experience playing in the Brazilian league is the reason coach Alexandre Gallo has picked him to represent his country at UAE 2013.  

The stat
– In 15 editions of the U-17 World Cup the host side have only won their opening game on four occasions. The first to manage it was Ecuador in 1995, followed by Egypt, two years later and Finland in 2003. Most recently, Mexico got off to a flyer in 2011 on their way to lifting the trophy, the first time a home side has ever won the tournament.

The words
“Our results indicate that the team is on the right track as far our preparations for the World Cup finals are concerned. We have to maintain this standard and always show a fighting spirit on the pitch. That’s how we’ll win at this tournament,” UAE coach Rashed Albedawi talking about his side’s preparations for the tournament they qualified automatically for as hosts