By Jay Mwamba
With whiz-kids Robbie Keane and Damien Duff expected to lead the Irish attack, the Republic starts FIFA’s World Youth Cup in Nigeria this weekend ranked among the favorites to lift international soccer’s second most prestigious tournament.
Playing out of Group C in the southwestern city of Ibadan, Ireland open their campaign in the 24-nation championship against Mexico on Sunday. Saudi Arabia follow next Wednesday and Australia on April 10, in their final group match.
Ireland kick off with high expectations on account of the quality of their squad. Apart from Keane and Duff, both senior internationals, Brian Kerr’s squad includes the core of the side that won the European Under-18 crown last summer. Ireland also placed third in the last World Youth Cup in Malaysia two years ago.
Other teams likely to mount a strong challenge for the Under-20 title include Malaysia, ’97 winners Argentina; three-time champs Brazil; Portugal, who won back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1991, and the two Africans hopes, Nigeria and Ghana.
Nigeria ’99 commences with a Group A match between the hosts and Costa Rica in Lagos on Saturday. The final will be on April 24. The first week’s schedule is:
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Saturday (groups in brackets): Nigeria-Costa Rica (A). Sunday: Germany-Paraguay (A); Ghana-Croatia, Argentina-Kazakhstan (B); Ireland-Mexico, Australia-Saudi Arabia (Group C).
Monday: Uruguay-Mali, Korea-Portugal (D); Cameroon-Japan, England-United States (E); Zambia-Honduras, Spain-Brazil (F). Wednesday: Nigeria-Germany, Costa Rica Paraguay (A); Ghana-Argentina, Croatia-Kazakhtstan (B); Australia-Mexico, Saudi Arabia-Ireland (Group C).