By Patrick Omorodion

The FIFA U-17 World Cup which begins this weekend in eight Nigeria cities is the 13th edition of the cadet championship which the world’s football governing body test-ran with the first edition tagged FIFA Kodak U-16 Tournament in China in 1985.

An unheralded Nigerian side tutored by Sebastine Brodericks-Imasuen with youthful Nduka Ugbade as captain, shocked the whole world with a stunning 2-0 defeat of then Federal Republic of Germany to win that maiden edition.
From that time till the last edition in South Korea, the Golden Eaglets and their Brazilian counterparts have both appeared in five final matches and have won three each and this time on Nigerian soil, both are determined to make history as the team with the most victories.

The cup has rotated more between three countries, incidentally two of them are West African neighbours, Nigeria and Ghana with Brazil. Nigeria won in 1985, 1993 and 2007, Brazil in 1997, 1999 and 2003 while Ghana, who have appeared in four final matches, won twice in 1995 and 1991.

The other countries who have equally tasted victory are Soviet Union who beat Nigeria in her consecutive final in 1987, Saudi Arabia in 1989, France, who beat Nigeria  in 2001 and Mexico who stopped Brazil in 2005.
After late Yemi Tella led the Lukman Haruna-led Eaglets to victory in 2007, Nigerians were optimistic that as host, the Eaglets will romp to an unassailable fourth win at home but the spate of hiccups that accompanied the team in the run up to the competition has made them to have a rethink and hope the team are not disgraced on home soil.

Rather than appoint Ben Iroha, who assisted Late Tella in their glorious run in Korea in 2007, the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, ever bugged by sentimental dealings, appointed Alphonsus Dike as coach but his tenure was short-lived after he failed to go past Benin Republic in the African qualifying round.

Dike was succeeded by former Green Eagles captain, Henry Nwosu but again he was dropped for reasons the NFF described as ‘professional indiscipline’ and replaced him with John Ogbuh, former coach of Premier League side, Niger Tornadoes.

One thing was common with the appointment of coaches for the U-17 side, which ordinarily should serve as a reservoir for the senior national teams, all the coaches are from the eastern part of the country, making it look as if the position was zoned to the East.

Ogbuh, a former player of Enyimba Football Club, was not deceived by the new position but was quick to tell Nigerians that he was not a magician and so would not promise anything as he barely knew the players he was inheriting from Nwosu.

Before he could settle into his new job, FIFA slammed the football fraternity with a surprise which caught the NFF off guard as they were relying on players in the Premier League to prosecute the competition.
The surprise is the compulsory testing of the players with the now popular Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test to determine the authenticity of the ages declared by the players.

That test caught half of the team on the wrong side but instead of accepting it and making arrangements to replace the ‘cheats’, the NFF threatened it was going ahead with the players because, according its president, Sani Lulu Abdullahi, the MRI test was not part of the competition’s regulations.

He was however overruled by Engineer Sani Ndanusa, the Sports Minister/Chairman, National Sports Commission, NSC who insisted Nigeria must abide by FIFA instruction on the compulsory test as “we don’t want to fall foul to FIFA rules.”

The ‘new’ Eaglets assembled from the rubbles of the MRI test were smuggled out of the country for a training tour in Qatar and not much is known of their strength as they prepare to open the championship with European champions, Germany on Saturday.

Can the Eaglets be lucky on home soil considering that on the three occasions they won the cup, were on Asian soils in China, Japan and South Korea? The answer could become clearer after the first match on Saturday.

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