Entertainment is guaranteed as Groups E and F get underway at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the UAE this Saturday, with two teams eager to register their first ever wins at the tournament and reigning champions Mexico embarking on the defence of the title they won on home turf two years ago. There are also two competition debutants in action as Iraq and Sweden face off at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain City.
Canada - Austria (Dubai, Sheikh Rashid Stadium, 17:00)
Iran – Argentina (Dubai, Sheikh Rashid Stadium, 20:00)
Mexico – Nigeria (Al Ain City, Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium, 17:00)
Iraq – Sweden (Al Ain City, Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium, 20:00)
Match of the day
Mexico - Nigeria
In a worthy opening contest in Group F, three-time winners Nigeria, the most successful team in the competition’s history, face holders and two-time champions Mexico in Al Ain City. El Tri caught the world’s attention with glory on home turf two years ago but face an immediate test against a Nigerian side they have only faced once before in the tournament’s 30-year history. The Mexicans won 1-0 in Canada in 1987, although it was the Africans who went through to the next round by virtue of their superior goal difference.
Redemption is the word for Austria as they prepare to contest their second FIFA U-17 World Cup after bowing out of the group stage with little more than a whimper in Egypt 16 years ago. Canada, meanwhile, are aiming for their first tournament victory at the sixth time of asking, so another page of competition history will be written whoever comes out on top.
The undoubted favourites in Group E are Argentina, who have been present at 12 of the past 15 editions and arrive in the UAE as South American champions. Their opponents, Iran, are at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to expectations, but the Asians have undergone a remarkable development since crashing out of the 2001 tournament without a single point to their name, reaching the last 16 in 2009.
Group F’s other match pits two competition debutants against one another as Iraq and Sweden meet in Al Ain City. The Scandinavians surprised with a 1-0 victory over Switzerland at the last UEFA U-17 Championship, eventually losing out on penalties to champions Russia. Success is of the utmost importance for both teams, with group favourites Mexico and Nigeria lying in wait after Saturday’s opening fixtures.
Player to watch
Saeid Ezatolahi (Iran)
The Iranian midfielder has already achieved what many of his peers can only dream of: signing professional terms. On 26 October 2012, Ezatolahi became the youngest ever player in the Iranian top flight when he came on as a substitute for Malavan aged just 16 years and 25 days. Later in the season he was voted the league’s best young player. Several top clubs have already attempted to sign the precocious talent and with more positive displays in the UAE, the list of interested parties is only likely to grow.
13 – Between 1987 and 2011, Canada lost 13 straight matches at FIFA U-17 World Cups prior to a 2-2 draw against England and a subsequent goalless draw with Rwanda at the last edition in Mexico. The latter was their first ever clean sheet at the tournament.
"I’m looking forward to every single match and I’ll be enjoying every minute out there on the pitch. Most of all I’m looking forward to testing myself against players from other countries and representing Austria at the tournament.” Austria midfielder Sascha Horvath can’t wait for the action to get underway in the UAE.