The name, FIFA U17 World Cup is synonymous with Nigeria… for obvious reasons. 1985, 1993, 2007 and most recently, in 2013, the Golden Eaglets have engraved their name on the cadet trophy. From Nduka Ugbade to Philip Osondu, Kanu Nwankwo, Wilson Oruma, Celestine Babayaro and most recently, Kelechi Iheanacho (and Victor Osimhen?), this competition has produced many stars that have gone on to put the country’s name on the world map. But question is; can this crop of players in Chile, tutored by Emmanuel Amunike win a record fifth title?
Prior to the kickoff of this year’s mundial in Chile, many Nigerians were skeptical about the chances of the Eaglets. You wouldn’t blame them especially after the team could only manage a fourth place finish at the African Championship in Niger, behind champions, Mali, South Africa and Guinea in that order. The Suwon four nation invitational tournament didn’t make matters any better as the Eaglets could only manage a win, a draw and a loss in three games, a possible four points in a group stage scenario…. In this case, they would have struggled to progress, right?
Anyway, the air of skepticism has now made way for optimism at the world cup after two wins against USA and Chile in two games. Seven goals scored, one conceded, an average of 3.5 goals per game, a very healthy +6 goals difference with Croatia still to come in the final group game, and a round of 16 spot guaranteed, then it’s safe to say the Eaglets have landed! But who can knock them off their perch? Errhhmm Germany? France? Brazil?
One thing looks certain: one of these countries, including Nigeria will win the trophy. Apart from Brazil being perennial winners, they have played in five finals, losing on two occasions. The Germans have also not won it, but their clinical finishing against Australia in their opening game shows they are confident before goal. Also, they lost to France in the final of this year’s Euro U17 championship. So What about the French?
So much can be said about the French. Apart from decimating a rampant Nigeria by 3-0 in the final of the 2001 edition to win their first and only title, the French were very impressive and ruthless too in the UEFA European 2015 Championship. They have not disappointed either in Chile as they have recorded the highest scoreline by beating New Zealand 6-1 in their opening game. Having seen the threats these nations pose towards the Eaglet’s quest for a fifth crown, should Nigerians still remain optimistic?
With Nigeria topping her group, it presents a good chance for the team to have a smooth sail to the final of this competition. The competition draw favours A1 as country would face C3, D3, E3 and if successfully, will face either B2 or F2 in the quarter-final. In other words, Nigeria would only face a group winner in the semi final stage. And if we are to go by history, Nigeria has never lost a semi final game at the world cup. Final in Santiago guaranteed? But first, they must surpass Australia at midnight today, then Brazil or New Zealand in the quarter-finals, right?
Then I ask again; can Eaglets win a record fifth title? And if No, who will knock them off their perch?