Two years ago, Nigerian football became a subject of ridicule around the globe after the once conquering U-17 National team, Golden Eaglets, were eliminated by a relatively unknown Minas of Niger Republic in the race to India 2017 World Cup.
The impact of the 2-3 aggregate defeat was felt by many football-loving Nigerians, as it stopped the country from defending the FIFA U-17 World Cup it won in 2015.
The Golden Eaglets had made history at Chile 2015 by winning the title back-to-back for the first time.
They also claimed a first trophy outside the continent of Asia.
By so doing, the Golden Eaglets become the second team after Brazil to win the FIFA U-17 trophy back to back, and also the first team ever to win it five times, having ruled the World at China ’85, Japan ‘93, Korea 2007 and United Arab Emirates in 2013.
Before the big fall in the hands of Minas of Niger Republic in 2016, the Golden Eaglets had won the African U-17 Championship in 2001 and 2007, and were runners-up in 1995.
The failure to qualify for India 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup made Nigeria, the first incumbent title holder since Switzerland in 2009, to fail to qualify for the subsequent edition.
The absence of Nigeria at India 2017 gave England a break through, as the country came from a two-goal deficit to beat Spain 5–2 in the final.
It was the first trophy for England at the U-17 level, but the success saw England becoming the second nation, after Brazil in 2003, to win both of FIFA’s under-age (U-20 and U-17) World Cup tournaments in the same calendar year.
The failure by the Golden Eaglets to defend their World Cup title in India came barely a year after the Super Eagles suffered a similar fate in 2015, when they failed to make it to the AFCON championship in Equatorial Guinea after winning the title at South Africa 2013.
But all that stain hanging around the neck of the Golden Eaglets is about to give way, if declaration by the team goalkeeper, Joseph Oluwabusola, will count for good this afternoon when they face their perennial rival, Ghana Black Starlets, in the final of the WAFU U-17 tournament in Niger Republic.
The winner of today’s encounter will qualify for the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Tanzania.
The Golden Eaglets started the campaign at Niger 2018 on a sad note, falling 2-3 to Burkina Faso in their opening match, but has since bounced back.
Among other victories, the Eaglets humiliated Cote d’Ivoire 5-1 before having a sweet revenge against the host, Niger Republic, whom they defeated 2-1 in one of the semifinals on Wednesday.
Now, the stage is set for Nigeria to rekindle a 67 –year rivalry against Ghana, and the Golden Eaglets have assured victory in the battle of Niamey today.
The match will hold at the General Seyni Kountche Stadium.
The Black Starlets of Ghana have won the FIFA U-17 World Cup on three occasions, while the Golden Eagles have won it five times.
Unlike the old format, countries in each of Africa’s six football regions now gather in one venue to take part in a qualifying tournament, with only the winning team eligible for the final tournament, save the region of the defending champion that produces two.
In this case, the defending champions of the FIFA U-17 World Cup is England, so, both Nigeria and Ghana will have to slug it out today for the zonal ticket to Tanzania, where Africa’s flag bearers to 2019 FIFA cadet championship will emerge.
Coach Manu Garba and his assistant, Nduka Ugbade, know the task ahead of the team.
On their part, Golden Eaglets striker, Akinwumi Amoo, who scored the first goal in their 2-1 victory against Niger Republic on Wednesday, as well as Olakunle Oluwasegun, who scored a brace in the 2-3 defeat to Burkina Faso, are optimistic of ending Ghana’s campaign in the race to 2019 this afternoon.
Oluwasegun was also on target for Nigeria in the 5-1 massacre of Cote d’Ivoire last week, and was named man of the match against the Minas of Niger Republic on Wednesday.
The President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick has charged the Golden Eaglets to keep level heads and stay focused in order to conquer Ghana today in Niamey.
“First, I want to congratulate you on a job well done so far; you have done very well including exhibiting the never-say die spirit that is peculiar to Nigerians.
This was visible in the manner you bounced back after the loss to Burkina Faso to dismiss the Ivorians 5-1, and also beat the host nation in the semifinals.
“But I want you to know that the job is not done yet.
You must stay focused and listen to your coaches.
I believe in their leadership because they are very knowledgeable and experienced and have discovered so many talented players that have excelled in recent years,” Pinnick said.
He advised the Eaglets to avoid distractions from agents, who according to him, will deceive and hurry them into signing for clubs that would not aid their proper development.
“The youth tournaments are basically developmental, so you have to follow instructions from your coaches and don’t allow agents to deceive you and make you sign for clubs in obscure countries.
Players like Nwankwo Kanu and Mikel John Obi were properly developed to stay longer in the game.”
Pinnick then promised to take the team for a training tour in either Qatar or Jordan ahead of the U-17 AFCON in Tanzania to further help their development, once they qualify.
Team goalkeeper, Oluwabusola, says they will do everything possible to beat Ghana and qualify for the real battle in Tanzania.