•Match Draws Held In Lagos –
About 160 players made up of five zonal male and female teams will be vying for honours when the National Finals of the season four of the annual Airtel Rising Stars U-17 tournament kicks off in Lagos on Wednesday, 30 July, at the Yabatech Sports Complex, Lagos.
The number consists of a male and female team of 16 players from each of the five participating zones namely; Port Harcourt, Enugu, Ilorin, Abuja and Lagos.
They qualified for the National Championship after emerging champions at the respective zonal championships concluded recently.
The four-day national finals promises to offer best of grassroots football laced with excitement, entertainment and fun with football artistry on display from the participating youngsters.
The winner of the National Championship in each category will represent the country at the Africa Championship to be hosted in Gabon in the last week of August.
Port Harcourt zone will be represented in the male and female categories by Rivers State, which defeated Delta and Akwa Ibom states in the respective categories in the final matches played inside the Sharks Stadium, Port Harcourt.
White Chiefs FC and White Princesses FC, both of Enugu will have the honour to fly the flag of the zone at the National Finals after they emerged champions in the male and female categories respectively.
Kwara State will be representing the Ilorin zone in both categories after the State’s teams defeated their counterparts from Ekiti to pick the single tickets to the National Championship.
Abuja Zone has the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and Plateau State for both the male and female categories. Lagos zone, on the other hand, will be represented by Oyo State in the male category and Lagos in the female category.
In a related development, the draw for the National Finals was held on Friday in Lagos under the supervision of Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria, YSFON, Airtel officials, Technical Advisers of the participating teams and the sports media.
Defending champions in both categories, Port Harcourt will square up against Lagos male and female teams in the first set of matches lined up on the opening day of the tournament.
Enugu zone will also lock horns with Ilorin zone in both categories on the opening day. Other group matches will resume the following day in a round robin format.
Speaking shortly after the draws, Technical Adviser of Port Harcourt zone and Olympic Gold medalist, Chioma Ajunwa-Oparah expressed confidence in the ability of her teams to live up to tournament expectation.
She revealed that the final 16 players for each team were selected through a rigorous and transparent process that enabled the technical team to pick only the best from among the thousands of youngsters that featured in the zonal screening and championship.
The ARS U-17 tournament, a pan-African initiative of Airtel Africa, is designed to provide support for the development of football talents across Nigeria.
It aims at discovering talented male and female footballers under the age of 17 and providing them with platform to gain football skills and develop into professional footballers.
The tournament enjoys the support of football bodies such as Lagos State Football Association, LSFA, Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria, YSFON, Arsenal Football Club and Nigeria School Sports Federation, NSSF.