Depicting an oyster shell and pearl in the national colours of the United Arab Emirates, a reference to the country’s historical relationship with fishing and pearl diving, the emblem of the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013 was unveiled at a special ceremony held on 5 March this year.

Today, a little over seven months later, the opening ceremony of the world finals in the age group also paid tribute to an age-old industry that is an integral part of the UAE’s national heritage.

As they awaited the entrance of the home side against Honduras, the fans at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi were treated to a majestic spectacle. Taking to the pitch were 24 groups formed by 200 people from 16 countries across the world, with each group carrying the flag of one of the participating nations, while above them floated huge pearls. The participants, nearly 180 of them volunteers, then gathered in the middle of the pitch for a breathtaking fireworks display, which lit up the sky with the colours of the host nation.

The five main themes of the ceremony were as follows: emerging from the sea, coming together in the spirit of sport, welcoming the world, joining forces and aligning the stars. Together they sought to illustrate the culture and values of the host nation, while also embodying the essence of FIFA’s youth competitions, which give the game’s young pearls the opportunity to emerge before a global audience and embark on their quest for football stardom. 

Some 504 youngsters will be in action during the course of the 52-match tournament, in which Mexico will hope to retain their title and the rest of the contenders aim to succeed them. From this galaxy of teenage talent could well emerge the new Luis Figo, Francesco Totti, Ronaldinho, Iker Casillas or Mario Gotze, just some of the outstanding players who have graced the competition in the past.

This, the fifth FIFA tournament to be staged in the UAE, provides these young hopefuls with the perfect starting point for a journey they hope will lead to them becoming the footballing greats of tomorrow.