Spain and Nigeria are no strangers to success at FIFA U-20 World Cups, each having secured a top-three finish on three separate occasions. With these impressive records, the pair are favourites to claim the top two spots in Group B, thus guaranteeing a place in the knockout stages. Of the two, however, only the Furia Roja have managed to scoop the ultimate prize.
The group's other contenders, Venezuela and Tahiti, also share a common thread in that both are newcomers to the U-20 showpiece event. Having made history by just qualifying, the duo's nothing-to-lose attitude in Egypt could make them dangerous opponents. Could one of these outsiders manage to win a place in the second round, even via a best third-place finish?
The matches (all kick-offs in local time)
Nigeria - Venezuela, Cairo, 25 September, 18:45
Spain - Tahiti, Cairo, 25 September, 21:30
Nigeria - Spain, Cairo, 28 September, 16:00
Tahiti - Venezuela, Cairo, 28 September, 18:45
Venezuela - Spain, Cairo, 1 October, 18:45
Tahiti - Nigeria, Cairo, 1 October, 18:45
How they qualified
Nigeria: Third in the African Youth Championship Rwanda 2009
Venezuela: Fourth in the South American U-20 Championship Venezuela 2009
Spain: Third in Group A of the UEFA U-19 European Championship 2008
Tahiti: Winner of the OFC U-20 Championship Tahiti 2008
The four teams in Group B will be based in Cairo, Egypt's capital and centre of political, commercial and cultural activities. With ten million people, making up 15 per cent of Egypt's population, it is the largest city in Africa and the Middle East. A large amount of Egypt's trade is either generated in the city or passes through it, and it offers the largest selection of publishers, media outlets, hospitals and universities in the country. Among its many attractions, the world-famous Pyramids make it a Mecca for tourists. Last but not least, Cairo is also the ever-bustling hub of Egyptian football.
All the action will take place at Egypt’s newest sports venue, the 28,500-capacity Al Salam Stadium, inaugurated in June 2009. It is the home ground of Al Intaj Al Habry, a club owned by the Egyptian Ministry of Military Production, which was recently promoted to the First Division. It will be the only venue with an artificial pitch to be used in the tournament.
The crunch match: Nigeria-Spain
Those expecting this encounter to be a revenge match for Spain after their loss to the Super Eagles in the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 will be disappointed, as very few of the players from that game will be present in Egypt.
Despite this, both Nigeria and Spain are aiming for a top-two finish and an automatic place in the second round, making their matchday 2 meeting even more decisive. The permutations are clear: while the winner can hold high hopes of topping the group, the loser will need to pull out all the stops in their final game to avoid the possibility of elimination.
The opening gambit
"We'll have to be cautious as the stakes are high in every match. We’ll have to study our three opponents closely to avoid any nasty surprises or embarrassing results." Jose Salomon Rondon, Venezuela forward.