Even among U-17 national teams, Brazil is always a favorite. They have won the most FIFA U-17 World Cup titles together with Nigeria, who also have three trophies. Brazil is the only team to have won the tournament twice in a row. Brazil struggled a bit and finished third in the 2013 South American qualifiers. Along with Uruguay and Venezuela, depending on the match-ups, Brazil should be in the final four. The youthful Verde-Amarela (Green and Yellow) experience much of the same expectations and pressure of their older compatriots. Coach Alexandre Gallo says such pressure is less than it was in the past.
I’d say it is less difficult,” Gallo told FIFA.com. “Everything happens so fast for this new generation that the current U-17 level corresponds to the U-20 stage of the past.
These days, you will find players who are practically professionals in that age category. Now, when I select the U-17 squad, I use the old U-20 criteria. I need to ask clubs for permission as some of them are already first team regulars.
Gallo relies partly on technology to choose a starting squad filled with many talented players. Speed and stamina are quantified. Each player is evaluated in terms of their personal physical capabilities and their relationship to the on field team.
“This work is necessary to map out the characteristics of each position and each player. So we know who plays best in each step of a game. The results will certainly help in casting a team,” Gallo explains.
Brazil’s outstanding forward is Robert Kenedy Nunes Nascimento, commonly known as Kenedy. The name is Kenedy with one “n.” A right footed, central forward, he also plays wing, and he has seen action with professional side Fluemenise. Kenedy scored six goals in 588 minutes played in recent U17 matches.
In seven recent contests, Brazil won four and earned 3 draws. The Verde-Amarela netted 12 and conceded five goals in those matches. They are not early scorers as the first goal usually comes from the 30th minute mark on.
Gallo has three goalkeepers with Marcos as the clear first choice. He played all but one of the South American championship matches.
Brazil is in the same bracket with the host, the United Arab Emirates. Honduras and Slovakia are their other adversaries in Group A, which should be won by the Samba.
Nigeria is a team beset with doubt. The team won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1985 (when it was U-16), 1993 and 2007. They also won the African Under-17 Championship in 2001 and 2007 and were runners-up in 1995. Africa’s most populous nation has a storied football history.
However, in August over half the squad was determined by bone scanning to be overage and was excluded from the team. The side, which were runner-up at the 2013 African Under-17 Championship held in Morocco, underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging – MRI scans – to determine their ages ahead of the upcoming World Cup in the UAE.
MRI was used to scan players” wrist plates to accurately determine their real age, with players between scores of 1 to 5 being eligible for the squad.
Reports show that at least six of the members of the Nigeria male Under 17 side, the Golden Eaglets, have failed an MRI scan conducted by Nigerian authorities. The six who failed the scan are a goalkeeper, two defenders and three strikers.
The team, which, by virtue of its performance at the African competition qualified for the 2013 U-17 World Cup Finals to be hosted by United Arab Emirates in September. The Eaglets were honored by the Nigerian president for their feat as it was the case with the “Super” Eagles in February after winning the African Cup of Nations in South Africa.
“We are not oblivious of the challenges posed by the MRI since we started this campaign because the players are growing,” said Garba.
Former African footballer of the year and Nigeria under-17 assistant coach Emmanuel Amuneke was quick to dismiss age-cheat allegations.
“We know that this journey was going to be full of challenges when we started,” Amuneke explained. “But we have been transparent enough as regards the twin issue of player selection and the MRI test and it is important for the public to be well educated on this matter.”
“I’m not surprised because I have worked as a youth coach for a very long time and when I saw the Nigerian team at the tournament, they were too old for the U17 age limit,” said coach Fabin Garba.
Coach Garba has picked 30 players from a list of 50 who passed the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests conducted by the National Hospital.
The enthusiastic Nigerian Ambassador in the UAE is ready to welcome the Golden Eaglets saying,
Speaking on behalf of the Nigerian community in the UAE, I think that watching Nigeria play this autumn will undoubtedly be one of the greatest highlights of the tournament and an opportunity we can not miss out on. We are wishing the team the best of luck and we hope to score a fourth memorable win this year.
The West Africans last won the competition in 2007 in the Korea Republic and finished runners-up two years later at home. They will face defending champions Mexico as well as first time participants Iraq and Sweden in Group F.
Their first match is against Mexico, and Garba is certain and confident “It is the cup, or nothing,” he told FIFA.com, “We have won the competition three times, Mexico have won it twice, so they should be scared of us. We do not fear any opponent, but we respect them, and I think we can do well.”
Rather than speculate, we will look at Nigeria’s roster at a time closer to the competition. No doubt Nigeria’s prospects will depend greatly on the performance of Isaac Success (R), the leading scorer in the African qualifiers.
With Mexico and Sweden in Group F, it will be difficult for the Eagles, but a strong third place finish would allow them to move to the first knockout stage.