The FIFA U-20 World Cup is not merely a highly prestigious tournament in its own right. It is also endowed with a long and rich history. The second biggest and second oldest FIFA tournament was first held in 1977, and will be staged for the 17th time in Egypt later this year.
A suitably momentous sense of the past infused Sunday’s spectacular Final Draw for the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2009, as the ceremony was set against the mystical and exotic surroundings of the Temple of Luxor. The 3,000-year-old structure, one of Egypt’s most significant and well-preserved monuments, provided a fittingly sumptuous backdrop to a glittering show entitled “Welcome to the land of magic".
The 300 or so guests were greeted at the site by a long and colourful parade. Troupes of costumed dancers and musicians portrayed the rich and diverse cultural traditions of the host nation, laying on a warm and colourful reception. Music from the opera Aida accompanied guests en route to the ceremony itself, staged in the temple’s inner court.
The ceremony opened with a short documentary examining the varied facets of Egypt as a tourism and holiday destination, focusing on the nation’s architectural, sightseeing and sporting infrastructure. The stunning images, accompanied by a spectacular fireworks display, provoked a strong emotional response and even greater sense of anticipation ahead of the tournament, which opens at the end of September this year.
Rich entertainment programme
The programme, presented by Egyptian actor Mohammed Eman, opened with a magical act in the most literal sense of the phrase: magician Marco Tempest enthralled the audience with his amazing illusions, combining traditional magic tricks, computer effects and multimedia video segments.
The next highlight was provided by pianist Omar Khairat, one of the Middle East’s most celebrated composers. Backed by a live band, Khairat performed a captivating set comprising devotional melodies and fast-paced chords, keeping his audience enthralled to the very end.
President of the Local Organising Committee Hany Abo Rida then officially welcomed his guests: “I would like to thank FIFA for the opportunity of staging this tournament. I would also like to thank the government for making it possible to hold the Final Draw at this unique location. We hope you enjoy Egypt’s culture and history, and we’re looking forward to an excellent tournament."
After speeches by Minister of Sport Hassan Sakr and Egyptian FA President Samir Zaher, FIFA vice-president and chairman of the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Jack Warner took to the stage. “This is the finest location for a draw ceremony I’ve ever experienced. We’ve never before held a draw at such a historically significant site," commented Warner. “We’re delighted that Egypt is hosting this tournament, and we’re sure it will be a wonderful World Cup with five outstanding venues. In the past, the U-20 World Cup has unearthed stars such as Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi. The future of this tournament is in good hands here. I wish success to all 24 teams, and look forward to some great football."
The evening now approached its tense and thrilling climax as representatives of the 24 teams slowly but surely found out the identities of their opponents at the finals. The draw for the six groups rounded off a magical night in Luxor in suitably dramatic fashion. As of 24 September, the wizards of the dribble will begin laying on magic of their own in the enchanting land of the Pharaohs.