Friday 07 July 2017, 12:13

Cambiasso, Kanu anticipating festival of football

  • Cambiasso and Kanu to help with India 2017 Official Draw 

  • Kanu won U-17 World Cup in 1993

  • Cambiasso finished third in 1995

All great journeys begin with a single step. It is an old, and perhaps somewhat clichéd saying, but it is certainly a true one. For Nwankwo Kanu and Esteban Cambiasso, their first steps on the global stage for their respective national teams came at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Kanu scored a hat-trick on his debut at that level, an 8-0 win against Canada at Japan 1993, before going on to lift the trophy with the Golden Eaglets. Cambiasso scored in the play-off for third place, as La Albiceleste finished third at Ecuador 1995.

The duo, who went on from that first step to win innumerable trophies during their storied careers, are in Mumbai, India for the Official Draw for the upcoming U-17 World Cup. The FIFA Legends sat down with ahead of helping out with the draw to discuss their respective experiences of the tournament and their thoughts on India as a host. How did it feel for you to represent your country on the global stage for the first time? Nwankwo Kanu: It’s something that I’ll always remember. That was a stepping stone for me. That World Cup made me. Being at the World Cup knowing that they had been doing well, it was a big challenge for the young ones to follow in the footsteps of the ones who have been here and won it (in 1985). There was a little bit of pressure on us to come in and do well. When we arrived and saw the atmosphere, how everybody was buzzing, we believed that we could do well.

​Esteban Cambiasso: In its history, we call the tournament the ‘U-17 World Cup’, but in the moment that you’re playing it and living it, it's the World Cup, it's not the U-17 edition! You never think about the age, you're thinking that it's your World Cup. In that moment, it’s the highest level. Playing for the first time for your country is one of the best feelings. The first time with your country, your first World Cup, it’s amazing. For me that third place was very good. The first objective that a country has is to play until the final day, and we did. OK, I’d prefer to win the cup, but when I think back now, I’m very happy with our performance.

Kanu, having won that tournament in 1993, there’s now a fine tradition of Nigeria doing well at the U-17 World Cup (five-time champions). Is being part of that legacy important for you as well? Nwankwo Kanu: It’s very important. The ones before did very well and, for us, we wanted to keep it going. Lifting the trophy is something that you cannot really express in words. The happiness, the joy in representing your country, coming back with the World Cup is something great. For us, it was a platform for the whole world to know that we can play.

What are your initial thoughts on India, and what kind of tournament do you think they will host? Esteban Cambiasso: I hope it’s a tournament people can enjoy because this country needs a tournament more than other countries. I know India loves football, so it’s a good chance for them. How the matches will actually be, it’s impossible to know, but I hope that the coaches and players will arrive with the mentality to enjoy it and understand we have to do something positive for this country.

Nwankwo Kanu: I believe everything is going to change after the competition. It’s a beautiful country, I love the food. I know it’s not always been big into football but this is going to change that.

Ahead of the draw, you met with some of the U-17 Indian players (Sanjeev Stalin, Dheeraj Singh and Jackson Singh). What message would you have for them ahead of the tournament? Nwankwo Kanu: It’s not going to be easy for them but for me, my message would be for them to have fun. At this age you have to enjoy football and have fun. Of course, they have to train, work hard, but the right time has come for them to bring everything together. They shouldn’t leave anything at home, they must bring everything – their energy, fighting spirit, skills – to the game. There is no tomorrow, no second chances. They have to make their country proud, but at the same time enjoy it. If they qualify from their group, it’s a great start for them, being in a tournament like this for the first time.

Esteban Cambiasso: Perhaps the best piece of advice would be, to forget about everything! Put the game and the moment out of their mind and then understand that whenever they play – whether it’s an international tournament or a friendly – it’s a game. They have the responsibility to play for their country but it’s an honour more than a responsibility. Try to enjoy it and try to forget everything around the game. In every training session, of course they have to remember - that is the moment when you fill your body with energy - but in the match they have to try and enjoy playing in what I imagine will be a great atmosphere. It will not be easy for them but I hope they can do it.