x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Countdown begins for start of Fifa Under 17 World Cup in UAE

Twenty-four teams have gathered in the UAE to compete in the U-17 World Cup, which begins on October 17.

UAE fans can look forward to an exciting tournament of football when the Fifa Under 17 World Cup gets underway. Christopher Pike / The National
UAE fans can look forward to an exciting tournament of football when the Fifa Under 17 World Cup gets underway. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // The countdown is on for the start of the Fifa Under 17 World Cup, with preparations for the international tournament now in the final stages before the kick-off on Thursday.

One of the largest football events held in the UAE brings together 24 teams from across the globe to compete over three weeks as they strive to reach the final in Abu Dhabi on November 8.

The teams began arriving in the UAE on Friday.

The UAE team are competing in Group A and face Brazil, Honduras and Slovakia. They will play their first match of the tournament against Honduras in Abu Dhabi on the opening day of the event. Kick off is at 8pm at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

The tournament takes place in six host cities: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Al Ain and Ras Al Khaimah.

Organisers said that the tournament has a long and successful history.

“It is one of the oldest of the Fifa World Cups and has been around since 1985,” said Inaki Alvarez, the Fifa deputy director of competitions.

“It is a good World Cup in the sense that it is developmental in nature, so it is different in character than say the U20 or the men’s World Cup, but it is a good chance for the young players to show themselves.

“The UAE has a good history of hosting Fifa events. It had the U20 here in 2003 and the Club World Cup and the Beach Soccer World Cup. Already the UAE has had many more World Cups than most other countries.”

Mexico are the only host team to have won the trophy on home soil, in 2011, but Mr Alvarez was optimistic about the UAE’s prospects.

“The UAE definitely have a chance, it would be nice to see them in the final,” he said.

“They have been working very hard for many months and because of the spontaneous type of football played at this event I think they have just as much chance as names like Argentina or Brazil.

“There is no reason why the home team cannot go all the way here. Here it is anybody’s game.”

Since the tournament’s launch in 1985, Nigeria and Brazil have had the most success, each having taken home the winner’s trophy three times.

U17 football has a different mix of teams to what might normally be expected at a senior global event, with the likes of England, France and Germany all missing the cut this year.

Mr Alvarez said that spectators at the game are likely to be watching the future stars of the sport. “This is where legends begin,” he said.

He encouraged the large expatriate communities to join the UAE in supporting the teams.

“It should be a celebration of football, that is what the U17 is,” Mr Alvarez said.

“We want to see families and friends coming to the stadiums and enjoying the games.

“Sure there is some serious rivalry, but we hope it can be a celebration too.”

The U17 World Cup has been the breeding ground for many of the sport’s superstars, including Cesc Fabregas, Ronaldinho and Neymar, who all competed as youngsters before becoming household names.

ksinclair@thenational.ae