In the United Arab Emirates, preparations for this year’s much-anticipated FIFA U-17 World Cup are in full swing. While the eyes of the planet are currently fixed on the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, football fans’ thoughts are already beginning to turn towards its younger equivalent, scheduled to kick off on 17 October, in exactly 100 days’ time.
The qualifying matches for the prestigious competition are done and dusted, and the identity of the competing teams is now known. On 26 August, the qualified countries will find out which sides stand between them and glory at the Official Draw, which will be held at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel in Abu Dhabi.
The 24 teams who have earned a berth at UAE 2013 will be divided into six groups of four. The top two from each section will automatically advance to the Round of 16, along with the four third-placed teams with the best records.
The knockout stage will culminate with the final of the event, set to be staged on 8 November 2013. Two years ago, an entertaining Mexican XI defeated Uruguay to lift the trophy.
Even though the draw is still a month away, tickets for this year’s matches, which will be played in six host cities, have been on sale since 26 June. While the exact fixtures are as yet unknown, fans are still able to purchase venue packages based on their selected location.
In tandem with tickets being placed on sale, the official mascot for UAE 2013, Shaqran, has also been unveiled to the public. The bird, who was named after a type of falcon found in the United Arab Emirates, is likely to become one of the most ubiquitous and popular sights during the competition, as he will travel the country meeting fans in the run-up to the tournament.
In parallel with these two events, Omar Abdulrahman was named as the ambassador of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013. The 21-year-old Emirati player was quick to stress the importance of the event.
“It’s helped numerous stars to get a first taste of a major international competition. I’m thinking of players like Luis Figo, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Petit and Neymar. That’s why I’m sure that we’ll witness a superb tournament,” he said.
He added: “Football is extremely popular in the region. The 24 best U-17 teams in the world will be here in October, and I’m positive the tickets will sell like hotcakes.”
Preparatory activities will continue during the coming months, with tickets for specific games going on sale as soon as the match schedule is decided. The qualified teams, meanwhile, will also step up their preparations, so as to start the tournament in the best possible frame of mind and state of fitness.
The hosts will likely be a force to be reckoned with at the contest, and have set their goals accordingly, says national coach Rashid Amir: “Despite the difficulty of the task that lies ahead, we would like to reach the semi-finals.”
When asked about potential opponents that his young side might encounter, Amir expressed a desire to avoid the Nigerians in the group stage: “They’re one of the best teams at this year’s tournament, with very physically strong players. And we can’t forget Brazil, who will be one of the favourites.”
UAE star Hamid Salmin believes that appearing at the FIFA U-17 World Cup is something that all footballers dream about. “Everyone wants to be included on the coach’s final list so that they can take part in this famous competition,” he said.
FIFA.com at the heart of the action
As per usual, FIFA.com will be at the heart of the action to bring you all the major news and views from UAE 2013, as well as exclusive photos from the 52 matches being played in the country’s top stadiums.
We’ll be reporting from Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Emirates Stadium in Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah Stadium in Fujairah, Sharjah Stadium in Sharjah, Rashid Stadium in Dubai, and Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
Prior to the big kick-off, we’ll have intriguing interviews and exclusive reports from the camps of the 24 participating teams, and special coverage of the Official Draw, which takes place next month.
You can follow all the latest FIFA U-17 World Cup news on Twitter (using the hashtag #u17wc) or by liking the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Facebook.