Nigeria are among the favourites going into the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009, given that the squad includes a series of players who helpedÂ win the FIFA U_17 World Cup Korea 2007. The pressure is, therefore, firmly on the shoulders of coach Samson Siasia to mastermind a triumphant campaign.
However, the Flying Eagles finished a disappointing third at the CAF African Youth Championship in Algeria earlier this year, and their chances of capturing the global crown have been hindered by the loss of key performers. Indeed, injury has ruled out forwards Macualey Chrisantus, the adidas Golden Ball recipient at Korea 2007, and AC Milan’s Nnamdi Oduamadi, who sustained a thigh strain during a training camp in Mallorca.
But it is not all doom and gloom. The genius of Rabiu Ibrahim will be on show, and Haruna Lukman has been given a second chance. Siasia had threatened to overlook the playmaker after criticism of his work_rate in the build_up to the tournament, but ultimately opted to make the Monaco player the only member of his squad to have been capped by Nigeria at senior level.
The youngsters will hope to benefit from the experience of their mentor. Siasia played at the 1994 FIFA World Cup US, and coached Nigeria to runners_up finishes at the FIFA U_20 World Cup Netherlands 2005 and the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008. The 45_year_old, a former forward who played for Lokeren in Belgium and French side Nantes, is hoping to go one better in Egypt.
“We have confidence and we have the players to do us proud,” Siasia declared. “The training camps in Qatar and Spain have helped the team greatly and we are heading to Egypt believing we can conquer.”
African football still awaits a world champion at U_20 level. Given their pedigree and talent, Nigeria will be eager to arrest this statistic on 16 October.