ABU DHABI // In just over 150 days, the cream of football's young talent will have gathered in the UAE for the 15th Under 17 World Cup.
The tournament will begin on October 17 in the capital at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and Emirates Club Stadium in Ras Al Khaimah, and work its way across the Emirates before ending up back in Abu Dhabi for the 52nd and final match November 7.
The tournament, in terms of which sides will be competing, has begun to take shape over the past few weeks and the final six qualifiers were decided on Saturday at the U17 European Championship in Slovakia.
All 24 teams are now known from six Fifa regions around the world, with Austria, Croatia, Italy, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden the last countries to join the party.
In March, at a ceremony at the Emirates Palace, organisers launched the tournament's official emblem, and the mascot - a falcon - was unveiled in Dubai on Monday.
Organisers say preparations are on course for what will be one of the biggest football events held in the region.
"The preparations for the tournament are going very well at the moment," said Yousuf Al Serkal, the head of the Football Association and part of the tournament's local organising committee.
"We are in continuous contact with Fifa and we have been updating them on all the procedures in the run-up to the event, so it is going on well at the moment.
"Our intention as always is to make sure we host a prestigious competition."
An extensive promotional campaign will also be rolled out as the tournament nears.
In March, Al Serkal said that Al Ain and UAE star Omar Abdulrahman will be at the centre of the campaign.
The tournament, which began as an Under 16 tournament but was changed to Under 17 in 1991, has unveiled many future stars.
Diego Simeone, Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, Luis Figo, Emmanuel Petit, Fernando Redondo, Ronaldinho, Nwankwo Kanu, Juan Sebastian Veron, Xavi and Landon Donovan all played in an Under 17 World Cup before moving to bigger stages.
African countries have had considerable success at the level.
Nigeria has won the tournament three times, finishing as runners-up on three more occasions.
Ghana have won the tournament twice in four trips to the finals, though they have not progressed as far since 1997, when a run of four consecutive appearances in the final ended.
Predictably, Brazil are the other dominant force, having won three titles and finished runners-up twice.
Ghana have not qualified for UAE 2013, though Brazil and Nigeria will be here.
So, too, will the defending champions and two-time winners Mexico, the only team to have won the tournament on home soil.
The biggest shock as far as qualifying goes is the absence of the United States. Though they have only made the semi-finals once, in 1999, they are the only country to have qualified for every tournament.
But their shock 3-1 loss to Honduras in the Concacaf Under 17 championship in April meant they would miss this year.
The draw for the tournament will be held on August 26 in Abu Dhabi, with the teams split into six groups of four.
Six stadiums will be used across the UAE.
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