By John Egbokhan, Abuja
New Zealand coach, Steve Cain, has said that Nigeria â€™s Golden Eaglets would not have an easy ride to victory when both sides clash in tomorrowâ€™s second round fixture of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup at the Abuja National Stadium.
Despite being considered outsiders, the Oceania champions, earned a historic first ever qualification for the knockout stage of a FIFA tournament to prove the doubters wrong in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. Midfielder Jack Hobson-McVeigh ensured a 1-1 draw with Turkey , and the point needed for qualification, with an unforgettable long range injury time effort to score a spectacular goal worthy of its historic nature.
The magnitude of the milestone feat is all the more remarkable when one considers this is New Zealand â€˜s 16th FIFA tournament. The Young All Whites have come a long way in the 12 years since their first appearance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
They still hold the unwanted record for the heaviest defeat at the tournament, a 13-0 loss to Spain at Egypt 1997, but the scale of improvement in little over a decade shows how far football in the Rugby mad nation of some four million inhabitants has come.
But speaking yesterday in Abuja , Coach Cain says that playing the Eaglets holds no fear for his history_making boys, who are enjoying themselves at the tournament. He also recounted the moment in Calabar that turned his team into local heroes back hone.
â€œWith a few minutes to go it was the first time in six months that I thought we were not going to qualify. And I smacked myself on the hand for thinking that! It just felt that it wasnâ€™t going to be our day, and that it would be a bridge too far. But I have to give credit to the team for backing ourselves.
â€œItâ€™s just brilliant; a first for our country and itâ€™s a real milestone,â€ continues Cain from the side of the pool, where his young charges are relaxing after their exertions the previous nightâ€, added coach Cain, whose view on the match against Nigeria would interest coach John Obuh and his history chasing players.
â€œNow we need to make sure that we can make this the norm and not the exception. We are looking forward to playing Nigeria , the a group winners. My boys will learn a lot from an occasion like that. And Iâ€™ll tell you one other thing, whoever we play would not have it easy. We wonâ€™t lie down for anyone. We are readyâ€, said Cain.