Eaglets in tough defence

HOSTS Nigeria will be defending their Fifa Under-17 World Cup crown when they kick off the 2009 tournament with a match against Germany at the National Stadium in Abuja tomorrow.

The Nigeria youngsters won the 2007 event in Korea, beating Spain in the final and Germany in the semis, so the opener to this year's event has a hint of a grudge match.

Nigeria are one of the hot favourites, along with Brazil, Argentina and the Germans.

The Golden Eaglets, as they are known, have won three Under-17 titles, a record number along with Brazil, though curiously these have been claimed each time the tournament was played on Asian soil.

The only other time the competition has been fought in Africa, in Egypt (1997), Brazil won.

Two-time winners Ghana surprisingly failed to qualify for this year's event, meaning they will be unable to repeat the recent success at the Under-20 World Cup, and there are some unlikely candidates from Africa.

Malawi qualified for their first-ever appearance and will face off against Spain, the US and the UAE in Group E to be played in Kano.

Burkina Faso will fancy their chances of reaching the second round, having been drawn with Turkey, New Zealand and Costa Rica in Enugu in Group D.

Algeria will meet Italy, Uruguay and Korea Republic in Kaduna.

Nigeria have the toughest task of all, having been pooled with the Germans, Argentina and Honduras in Group A, which will be played in Abuja, except for the final match against the Argentines, which will take place in Bauchi.