Kiddies football has set alight the Federal Capital Territory as the 3rd edition of the Nigeria Football Federationâ€“organised National U-13 football championship rolled off the ground on Sunday.
A total nine states are participating in the annual competition, which seeks to discover talented youngsters who can fill the boots of todayâ€™s superstars in the near future.
At the inception of the Sani Lulu Abdullahi administration in August 2006, the administration promised to make grassroots football development a cardinal objective, and the third edition of the U-13 competition provides ample evidence of the seriousness the team attaches to this particular project.
NFF President, Lulu Abdullahi, personally welcomed the teams to the competition at an impressive ceremony that took place at the FIFA Technical Centre, Abuja on Sunday morning, reiterating that the future of Nigeria football lies with the youth, and that the obsession with getting players of the real age to represent Nigeria in international ageâ€“grade tournaments keeps pushing the Federation to sustain the programme.
â€œThe Federal Government wants the nation to be among the best 20 economies in the world by the Year 2020. We want to be ahead of that; we want to be the number one footballâ€“playing nation in the world well before then.
â€œAnd we can only achieve this objective if we get players of the correct age playing for us at international tournaments.”
That way, we can be sure that they will be in there for a very long time. Also, we are not just talking about football; we are talking about football and education.
The players we pick from the competition every year gets together at least four times a year during their holiday period, during which we talk to them about the need to concentrate on their education and about patriotism and commitmentâ€.
Since the competition began in 2007, the NFF has always picked the best 25 players from each competition, and sponsors the secondary school education of these players.
The U_13 set of 2007 is now U_15, and the NFF is hopeful that most of the players will provide the bulk of the Nigeria team that will contest the African qualifiers for the FIFA U_17 World Cup to be staged in Mexico in two years.
This yearâ€™s competition came alive with the opening match between Edo and Bauchi States ending 3_1 in favour of the latter yesterday morning.
Teams from Bauchi, Edo, Enugu , Niger , Jigawa, Ondo, Kaduna , Imo, Nasarawa and the FCT are making use of the FIFA Football Turf at the FIFA Technical Centre and the practice pitch of the National Stadium, Abuja .
The competition ends on Tuesday with the Chairman of the National Sports Commission, Engineer Sani Ndanusa, Director â€“General of NSC, Chief Patrick Ekeji, other Directors of NSC, NFF President and Board Members and NFF Management Staff set to grace the occasion.
Ten players were disqualified for being above the age limit. Today, Enugu will play Bauchi in the first match at the Practice Pitch of the National Stadium, with Ondo taking on Niger and Nasarawa tackling Kaduna in other games at the FIFA Football Turf.