Before the start of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 it would have come as no surprise to learn that Nigeria, a side who've lifted the trophy three times and reached the final on three other occasions, would make the semi-finals. Fewer would have anticipated their opponents would be a team making their U-17 World Cup debut.
Sweden have enjoyed a dazzling run of form at the tournament, with one of their finest achievements being a hard fought 3-3 draw against Nigeria when the two sides met in Group F. But there can be no draws this Tuesday, and the rivals will finally get to see who is the better side in their battle to book a place in the final.
Nigeria enter the match as favourites to maintain their unbeaten run. Alongside Argentina, the African giants are the only team to progress this far without a loss to their name. The Golden Eaglets dominated Group F before knocking out both Iran and Uruguay, and though their draw with Sweden could be seen as a slight stumble, their impressive displays of footballing prowess have drawn praise from opponents. Brazil coach Alexandre Gallo described Nigeria as, “a strong side who play a similar game to the Brazilians. Their style is what we call football!”
Opponents Sweden will be looking to neutralize Nigeria’s attacking threat while taking whatever chances come their way, just as they did at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Dubai. Despite only qualifying from the group stage as one of the best-ranked third-placed teams, they went on to spring one of the heists of the tournament by knocking out Japan before overturning a deficit against Honduras to win 2-1.
They join the Netherlands, Turkey and Switzerland as one of only four European teams to ever reach the U-17 World Cup semi-finals on debut. But it is Switzerland, the side that won the title on their debut, that the Swedes will be looking to emulate.
Nigeria’s offensive flair should be on full display. Coach Manu Garba has selected the goal-hungry duo of Kelechi Iheanacho and Musa Yahaya alongside Taiwo Awoniyi, who proved himself an excellent replacement for the injured Success Isaac when he knocked in a brace against Uruguay in the quarter-finals.
Sweden will retain the front pairing of Elias Andersson and Gustav Engvall, combining with the prolific Valmir Berisha up near the goal. An interesting sub-plot of this match will see Sweden’s Ali Suljic take on his U-18 Chelsea team-mate Habib Makanjuola.
Midfielder Viktor Nordin will sit this one out for Sweden after picking up yellow cards in two successive matches. Nigeria will have to do without the services of team fixture Akinjide Idowu, who will miss his first game of the tournament after being shown a second yellow against Uruguay.
The player to watch
Valmir Berisha (Sweden)
The lofty Swedish striker has been instrumental in his side’s progress at UAE 2013, his most recent contribution a breathtaking back-heel into the Honduras net. The semi-final gives the young forward a chance to reassert his attacking credentials, which were clearly in evidence during Sweden’s last encounter with Nigeria, when his brace put the Europeans 2-0 up before their opponents came back to level the score. Speaking to FIFA.com after the match, Berisha said: “Nigeria assumed they were going to breeze past the Swedish minnows and claim an easy victory. We showed them how well we can play.”
10 – The number of times Nigeria have prevailed out of a total of 17 games against European sides at the U-17 World Cup. The remaining seven results comprise two losses and five draws, most recently against Sweden, who are the only team to have avoided defeat against Nigeria at UAE 2013. But can the Scandinavians do it again?
“When we came to UAE our goal was to reach the Round of 16, but we’ve played excellent football and it has taken us even further. We are going to try our hardest to get to the final. It’s not impossible. We have really enjoyed our time here and at the end of the day we’ll be delighted whatever happens, so we have nothing to lose,” Sweden coach Roland Larsson
“I want to congratulate the players for the way they performed against Uruguay, and the Swedish team should watch out for us come Tuesday. We have learned a lot from the last time we played, and this time we have to be ready for them,” Nigeria coach Manu Garba