ABU DHABI: The FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 kicks off today in Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium when Brazil take on Slovakia in the Opening Match of a tournament which is the first high-visibility nternational stage for 504 potential stars of tomorrow.
The schedule for the opening day features four matches split between Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah. Three-time title holders Brazil kick off their Group A campaign against the Slovaks, while hosts UAE take on Honduras in the group’s other game.
In Group B, the 2011 runners-up Uruguay will be hoping for a flying start when they meet New Zealand, and fireworks are expected as African champions Côte d’Ivoire take on an Italian side intent on lifting the trophy for the first time.
This latter match will be the third meeting between the two at this tournament, with the current tally standing at a win apiece.
The Baby Elephants had their best ever finish at a U-17 World Cup when they made their debut appearance at Canada 1987, beating Italy 2-1 in extra time to claim third place. Italy had to wait 18 years to take their revenge at Peru 2005, defeating the west Africans 4-3 in a goal-fest of an opening match.
STAT FACT: In 15 editions the hosts have won their opening game on only four occasions: Ecuador in 1995, Egypt in 1997, Finland in 2003 and eventual cup-winners Mexico in 2011
The African champions will be relying on a solid defence led by goalkeeper Seck Diabagate and Franck Kessie. For his part, Daniele Zoratto is keen to be the first coach to claim the trophy for Italy.
The Opening Match is a clash between experience and ambition as Brazil take on Slovakia in Group A’s opening encounter. The Seleção are looking for a fourth U-17 World Cup trophy to add to their collection, while the debutant Slovaks are competing in the tournament as an independent nation for the first time.
Santos’ Gabriel is Brazil’s star. He did not appear in the South America U-17 Championship in Argentina but his domestic league experience has earned him a call from coach Alexandre Gallo.
Brazil-Slovakia (Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, 17:00)
UAE-Honduras (Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, 20:00)
Uruguay-New Zealand (Ras Al Khaimah, Emirates Stadium, 17:00)
Côte d’Ivoire-Italy (Ras Al Khaimah, Emirates Stadium, 20:00)