The tournament comes at a time when Chilean football is riding high, with the senior national team having just won the 2015 Copa America and, with it, earning the right to represent South America at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017.
Looking to the future
The U-17 World Cup has been graced by many senior world champions over the years, among them Germany 2006 winners Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti of Italy; Ronaldinho, who was victorious with Brazil at Korea/Japan 2002; the Spanish trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, South Africa 2010 champions to a man; and the German duo of Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze, who lifted the Trophy high at Brazil 2014. Meanwhile, Neymar is just one of many other world-class talents to have lit up the global U-17 stage.
This year’s crop of gifted youngsters – 504 of them in all – are dreaming of following in those footsteps. They will be well aware that the spotlight will be on them over the next few weeks and that a good showing in Chile will help them towards fulfilling their goal of making the big time.
The whole of Chile is eagerly awaiting the action and is ready to take the players to their hearts, with the host cities of Coquimbo, La Serena, Vina Del Mar, Santiago, Talca, Chillan, Conception and Puerto Montt all set to stage the competition. The South American nation, which has previously hosted three major FIFA tournaments - the World Cup in 1962, the 1987 U-20 World Cup and the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2008 - has high hopes of La Rojita, who are aiming to emulate the seniors’ recent successes by lifting the U-17 World Cup for the first time.
Nigeria lead the way
Historically, African nations have had the edge over their European and South American rivals in the competition, having won six of the 15 previous editions. With four tournament triumphs to their name, including the inaugural competition in 1985 and the last in 2013, Nigeria rank high among the favourites for Chile 2015. As he revealed in a recent interview with FIFA.com, coach Emmanuel Amunike, a former Super Eagles striker, is itching to get their title defence underway and has complete faith in his team, vowing: “Our best will come in Chile.”
Nigeria can expect a stiff challenge from 2005 and 2011 champions Mexico, three-time winners Brazil, who last won the competition in 2003, and reigning European champions France, who tasted success in 2001 and will no doubt be anxious to repeat the experience.
The remaining 20 pretenders are all thinking big too, and have designs on emulating the surprise successes achieved by Saudi Arabia in 1989 and Switzerland in 2009. Germany’s youngsters will look to follow up their elders’ glorious run at Brazil 2014 and maintain the country’s recent dominance of the global scene, while Argentina’s teenage hopefuls will be aiming to add a first world U-17 title to the nation’s collection of two World Cups and six U-20 World Cups.
Indeed, there are so many teams in with a chance at Chile 2015 that another unexpected win cannot be ruled out, particularly from one of the teams with previous experience of the competition.
With 52 matches taking place over the next three weeks, there will be much to keep the fans entertained as the battle to become the next U-17 world champions unfolds.