As the Golden Eaglets file out against Iraq in today’s final Group F match of the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates the coach Manu Garba tutored lads will be preoccupied with how to qualify for the next round and reassert their authority in the tournament.
Until their match against Sweden, Tuesday, the Eaglets looked invincible, especially after their 6-1 demolition of defending champions, Mexico in their opening game.
But if the Nigerians thought their near flawless thrashing of Mexico would force other teams in the group fear them then they were mistaken as they were given the rudest shock of their lives by Sweden.
The Scandinavians nearly overwhelmed the former champions in a six-goal thriller which ended 3 goals apiece.
But the Eaglets have learnt a lot from that encounter. Already, Coach Manu Garba has acknowledged that the draw against the Swedes was a set back.
From that perspective, the Eaglets are conscious that their position is shaky and they hold their fate in their own hands. A loss in today’s match could spell doom for the otherwise promising Nigerians.
Coach Garba has the players that can do the job for him. Free scoring Kelechi Ihenacho, Isaac Success, baring any injury, Musa Yahaya, Taiwo Awoniyi and Chidere Eze can tear apart any defence on a good day.
To win today’s game the Nigerian coach must take another look at his defence, particularly the left back position. All the goals conceded by the Eaglets, so far, went in through the left side of the defence. The goalkeeper must be better protected to avoid conceding silly goals.
The Eaglets must show dynamism in their play. They have to be more inventive in the wings and avoid being predictable. In Ihenacho, Alfa, Yahaya, et al, Garba has all it takes to go tops. No one expects less.
Despite losing two out of two, Iraq is not a bad team.
The players are very mobile and play exciting football. Their determination and sense of purpose put them on a high pedestal. Having crashed out of the tournament, the Iraqis have nothing to lose in today’s clash and that is enough motivation for them to go out for the kill. God forbid.
The other fixture between Sweden and Mexico promises a keener contest as either of the teams can still qualify for the next round. No doubt, it holds a lot in terms of competition. Both matches begin at 5.00 pm Nigerian time.