x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fifa Under 17 World Cup offered a contrast in display of nationalistic pride

There were many highlights in the Fifa tournament held over three weeks across the Emirates. Ali Khaled looks at five highlights.

Nigerian players celebrate after winning the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2013 at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, on November 8, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Nigeria won the final against Mexico 3-0.  AFP PHOTO  MARWAN NAAMANI
Nigerian players celebrate after winning the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2013 at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, on November 8, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Nigeria won the final against Mexico 3-0. AFP PHOTO MARWAN NAAMANI

UAE’s sliding doors moment

For the home nation the high point came in the first minute of the first match; Mohammed Al Akberi, the striker who was one of the UAE’s few bright spots, found himself bearing down on the Honduras goalkeeper Cristian Hernandez. Score, and the competition is off to a dream start for the young Emiratis.

Instead, the keeper saves and the UAE go on to lose the match 2-1. With Brazil up next, coach Rashid Amir had highlighted Honduras as a must-win match. Performances, and heads, dropped noticeably after the defeat, and the UAE’s campaign was caught in a downwards spiral it could never escape.

Brazil’s golden future

Whatever the age group, nothing brings glamour and expectation to a competition like the sight of Brazil’s golden shirts.

In the UAE they did not disappoint, their tradition of joga bonito – “Beautiful play” – faithfully carried on by Mosquito, Boschilia and their brilliant captain Nathan.

Having dazzled to reach the quarter-finals, their defeat to Mexico on penalties came as a shock. But on this evidence, Brazil, perhaps more than any other nation in the tournament, can expect yet another golden generation to emerge.

Crowd concerns

It was a tournament of highs and lows in terms of attendances. The UAE’s diverse demographic meant every single nation was represented by local communities.

Nigeria, Iraq and Iran drew splendid support, wherever they played. Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and a few others also attracted relatively strong followings, and the final was played too a large crowd.

But too many matches were played in front of small crowds.

Fifa competitions do not come around very often, and football fans may regret a missed opportunity to see some of the stars of the future.

Attacking full-backs

Brazil’s Auro and Nigeria’s Musa Muhammed both evoked memories of two great international full-backs from different generations.

The young Brazilian’s overlapping runs were so uncannily similar to those of his compatriot Dani Alves of Barcelona, it seems clear Auro models himself on the man he hopes to replace one day as the country’s first choice right-back.

Meanwhile, Muhammed’s lanky style recalled a Brazilian from previous era; the brilliant Josimar who lit up the 1986 World Cup in Mexico with his surging runs and long range goals.

The European scouts would have been left drooling by Muhammed’s performance in the final when he scored one goal, assisted another, and ran the poor Mexican defence ragged all evening.

In two teams bursting with individual talent, Auro and Muhammed stood out as future superstars.

Nigeria’s brilliance

And what of champions Nigeria? Wonderfully noisy fans in the stands; a ruthlessly talented team on the pitch. The 2013 Fifa World Cup was one high point after another.

In Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Musa Yahaya they had a trio that married skill and strength perfectly.

Nigeria also scored at least three goals in every match and failed to win only once, the 3-3 draw with Sweden (who they later beat 3-0 in the semi-final).

As far back as June, Rashid Amir, the UAE coach, had singled Nigeria out as the team to avoid at the World Cup. A “petrifying” team, he called them.

He was right.

One particular incident spoke volumes of the confidence, some would say Mourinho-esque arrogance, their coach Manu Garba showed throughout the tournament.

After Nigeria’s 3-3 draw with Sweden, it was relayed to him in the post-match press conference that the Iraqi coach had earlier said he would be looking to exploit Nigeria’s weaknesses, which he believed to be an over reliance on individual skills, in the meeting between the two teams a few days later.

Garba’s response?

“We’ll see at the end of the match.”

It was a brash, dismissive comment more at home at a boxing weigh-in than at a football press conference. But Nigeria beat Iraq 5-0, and he was right.

His confidence proved well placed, not just against Iraq but overall as Nigeria proved to be worthy champions in the UAE.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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