x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The Under 17 World Cup teams go through their final preparations

With only two days to go until the opening fixtures, the tournament's 24 teams are putting together their final preparations across the UAE.

Fifa referees and assistants train at the Armed Forces Stadium in Abu Dhabi ahead of the Under 17 World Cup finals. Sammy Dallal / The National
Fifa referees and assistants train at the Armed Forces Stadium in Abu Dhabi ahead of the Under 17 World Cup finals. Sammy Dallal / The National

DUBAI // At various locations across the Emirates yesterday, game plans were being finalised, technique honed and fitness finessed.

Alongside Emirates Palace hotel, and as the sun set on another Abu Dhabi day, a young group of UAE hopefuls trained to the soundtrack of constant instruction from Rashid Amir, the coach of the country’s Under 17 side.

Around alternative capital locations, synchronised sessions were taking place among Group A’s other contestants: Brazil, the three-time world champions, Honduras and Slovakia, each busy acclimatising to mid-October. If the month marks a welcome respite, finally, from a long summer, the heat will return in different guise in two days’ time.

Then, the months of perspiration and preparation at long last reach validation, as the Fifa U17 World Cup kicks off in earnest at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

First, Brazil clash with Slovakia, before the UAE’s latest batch of talented age-group footballers seek a momentum-inducing opening victory against Honduras. The hosts have long spoken of the importance of a perfect start.

“Winning the first game would be a great start,” said Faisal Hussein, the UAE No 8. “It would see more and more supporters get behind us.”

To the faraway north, while Fujairah buzzed to the din of holidaymakers, there was excited endeavour amid teams from Croatia, Morocco, Panama and Uzbekistan.

The Group C participants may be stationed a considerable distance from where new world champions will be crowned, on November 8, yet minds still fixed on next month’s final in Abu Dhabi.

“We want to show that we qualified for the World Cup for a reason and that we can compete with anyone,” said Alen Halilovic, the Croatian midfielder expected to be one of the tournament’s finest contributors.

“We have big expectations and this Croatia side are really strong … if we play to the level we’re capable of, we don’t need to fear anybody.”

If Halilovic was allowed to dream of the event’s 52nd, and final, match, peers in Dubai were exercising a little caution.

Argentina may represent one of football’s most celebrated countries, yet when it comes to the U17 level, they have never journeyed beyond the semi-finals.

A seemingly straightforward Group E campaign, which begins on Saturday against Iran, will not cultivate complacency.

“First of all, we’re looking to survive the opening phase,” said Sebastian Driussi, the striker whose goals in qualifying ensured Argentina arrived in the UAE as South American champions.

“It’s been drummed into us that you should never think ahead to a possible final, but rather the first match.

“Of course, we dream of progressing and are desperate to do that. But we have to take it as it comes, step by step.”

The first steps in this 2013 tournament, taken by Brazil and Slovakia, are now only a short time away.

jmcauley@thenational.ae