By Samindra Kunti in Rio de Janeiro
October 25 – Brazil and Canada kick off the U-17 World Cup on Saturday. The hosts will be among the favourites to win the tournament that was relocated at short notice from Peru.
Earlier this week Flamengo steamrollered Gremio 5-0 in the second leg of the all-Brazilian Copa Libertadores semi-final to progress to the competition’s showpiece final in November. The match and Flamengo’s domestic league challenge have dominated the news cycle, taking public attention away from the first FIFA youth competition that Brazil will stage.
The lack of buzz in this passionate football nation is a major contrast with the popularity of the tournament two years ago in India when fans in six urban hubs flocked to the matches with an average gate of more than 25,000 fans at the 52 games.
In Brazil, FIFA and the local organising committee have chosen four venues in secondary cities, namely Gama, Goiania and Cariacica. FIFA has been reluctant to release ticket figures, perhaps suggesting that sales have been slow ahead of the tournament.
Originally, Peru had been scheduled to stage the U-17 World Cup, but following an inspection visit by the world federation in February the tournament was taken away from the Peruvians over slow and inadequate preparations. Neighbours Brazil, who earlier this summer hosted the Copa America, came to the rescue.
On Thursday, the Peruvians were given a second chance when the FIFA Council awarded Peru the U-20 World Cup in 2021.
On the field, Brazil and Nigeria have the best records in the competition, winning the tournament three and five times respectively. The hosts have been paired in Group A with Canada, New Zealand and debutants Angola. They open the competition against the North Americans. Nigeria last won at the U-17 age level in 2015 in Chile and have expressed their ambition to aim for a sixth title. They finished fourth at the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations, like in 2015, and have been drawn in a favourable group with Hungary, Ecuador and Australia.
The Netherlands are expected to lead the European challenge. The Dutch retained their European crown earlier this year with an exciting squad. Reigning champions England however will not defend their title. They were eliminated in the group stages of the continental finals.
Angola, Senegal and the Solomon Islands will make their maiden finals appearance in Brazil. The tournament will culminate with the final on November 17 in Gama, a satellite city of the Brazilian capital Brasilia.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1611697703labto1611697703ofdlr1611697703owedi1611697703sni@o1611697703fni1611697703