NEW DELHI: The Under-17 World Cup starting in India on Friday should feature only players born this century, but officials are taking no chances after defending champions Nigeria were caught in a major age-cheating scandal.
All players at the competition, which has helped launch the careers of Neymar, Ronaldinho, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, will have their wrists scanned by MRI to check they weren’t born before January 1, 2000.
The measure was confirmed after Nigeria, who have won the tournament a record five times, bombed out of qualifying after they lost 26 squad members who were found to be over-age ahead of a key clash in August.
Age fraud is also rampant in other countries, according to football officials, prompting FIFA to bring Magnetic Resonance Imaging equipment to the 17th edition of the tournament, which is taking part in six Indian cities.
MRI scans can determine whether a player is below 17 with 99 percent accuracy, experts say, as they can show whether he or she has stopped growing — which usually happens after 17.
“While it is the responsibility of each member association to ensure that their players meet the age requirements, FIFA has decided to conduct magnetic resonance imaging of the wrist at its U-17 competitions,” said a FIFA spokesperson.
Play gets underway on Friday in New Delhi, where two-time champions Ghana play Colombia at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, while New Zealand clash with Turkey in Mumbai.
With the absence of Nigeria, and with three-time winners Brazil weakened, the tournament is regarded as open and unpredictable.
Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu said that it won’t be easy for the South American giants to break their 14-year-old trophy drought with “too many title contenders” in fray.
“All the European teams are very strong, including Spain and England, while Mexico, United States and the South American sides will pose a threat,” Amadeu told reporters in Mumbai.
“It’s always difficult to face an African side in this age group,” the 52-year-old added.
Brazil have been dealt a severe blow after star striker Vinicius Junior, who has drawn comparisons with Paris-Saint Germain’s Neymar, was denied release by his club Flamengo.
India, hosting their biggest football event yet, will also be keen to mark their debut with a strong showing. They are in Group A with USA, Columbia and Ghana.
But India’s manager Luis Norton de Matos, a former Portugal forward, did not mince his words when he said that India have just a five percent chance of winning a game.
The 23-day event culminates on October 28 with the final in Kolkata, the eastern city known as the hotbed of football in cricket-obsessed India.