Whatever happens in the final on Saturday (20:00 CET) a new mark will be made at the FIFA World Youth Championship. After defeating arch-rivals and co-record holders Brazil in the semi-finals, Argentina will be gunning for a fifth title and a third in the past four tournaments. If Nigeria come out on top, they will become the first African team to win the championship. A year ahead of Germany 2006 and five before the first FIFA World Cup™ in the Mother continent that result could be the breakthrough their adoring fans have long been waiting for.

Few would argue that Argentina and Nigeria deserve their place on the grand stage in Utrecht's Galgenwaard Stadium. After slow starts, Francisco Ferraro and Samson Siasia have guided their sides through arguably the toughest groups before defeating top teams on route. The Albiceleste conquered Colombia, Spain and Brazil having discovered an aggressive pressing game perfectly suited to the individual talent of star player Lionel Messi. Increasingly confident, the Flying Eagles downed Ukraine, the hosts Holland and Morocco playing their own free-flowing physical game centred around the gifted John Obi Mikel.

Relieved after overcoming their great rivals Brazil, Argentina were in relaxed mood before the final with their players entertaining journalists at their hotel.
 
"We have completed what we set out to do which was to stay until the end," said their captain Pablo Zabaleta, scorer of the last-gasp semi-final winner. "There will be a lot of nerves because we are playing the final."

Striker Gustavo Oberman praised the team's no-nonsense work ethic and a fighting spirit that has seen them strike twice in the closing seconds of knockout matches. 

"It's so satisfying to beat such a great rival. We've proved we have a great group here that will stand Argentina in good stead for the future," said the Argentinos Juniors players.

A call from Diego
But most journalists' eyes were trained on Messi, especially while he received a call from the person he has been most likened to, Maradona.

"Hola Diego," he said eyes brightening and face reddening, before accepting congratulations and maybe some advice from the great man who was on his way to judge the Miss Italy beauty contest.

Having scored four particularly handsome goals himself, Messi's own attraction is winning admirers from all corners of the globe. Even before the 25-yard screamer against Brazil, Barcelona director Txiki Begiristain had visited Utrecht to offer the 18-year-old a new contract with a buy-out clause reported to be 150 million euros.    

"I'm very happy to be staying in Barcelona," said the Argentine who club coach Frank Rijkaard describes as "the future". 

"It would be nice to finish as top goalscorer but the most important thing is the group. With our late goals, we've shown that we have the mental strength to conquer. But Nigeria are in the final through their own merit so it will be complicated."

The Africans are far from being Messi-obssessed. Confidence sky high, the party arrived in Utrecht with the broadest of smiles having destroyed Morocco 3-0 in Kerkrade.

"Yes Messi is good but they said the same about Ukraine's forward (Artem Milevskyi) and Monday James controlled him," their coach said.

Flying high
Anxious at the beginning, mortified after losing 2-1 to Korea Republic following two late strikes, the Flying Eagles' spirits were high as they lugged their bags through yet another hotel. Being the first African team to win the U-20 crown is not the only ambition for Siasia's boys and many of the squad are already rumoured to have agreed contracts with European clubs.

John Obi Mikel, the player perhaps most under the spotlight, has matured nicely, displaying the kind of composure and vision that has had top name sides competing over his signature.

"I don't see it as a Messi - Mikel duel," he says. "We just have to see how the game develops. We just have to play our usual game, follow the instructions of our coach and use our brains. I am sure it's going be a good match, but it's impossible to say which team has the better chance to win it."

Siasia agrees: "It's 50-50. We know what we have to do to win it. Unfortunately, we'll have some players missing. I still have to figure out which replacements to use."

Nigeria will be without top defender Onyekachi Apam but Argentina will also lose their pillar at the back Gustavo Cabral as well as forward Neri Cardozo.

Those players may be absent but, as they have done religiously throughout the tournament, the teams will be competing for the help of a higher being in their quest for glory. Saturday night will reveal whose prayers will have been answered.