By pual Bassey
Two matches into the ongoing FIFA U-20 World Cup, the Flying Eagles of Nigeria had banged in ten goals against Guatemala and Croatia respectively.
Trust Nigerians, the champagnes have been popped, the celebration is on.
Already, we have forgotten the critisms that followed the four nation tournament where we did so badly that doubts were expressed as to our fortunes in Colombia.
Now we have forgotten all that. Now, all we are saying is, give us the cup. No wonder a colleague of mine was so taken aback on Thursday when I told him that it was too early to celebrate. I told him that the match against Guatemala was not enough to gauge the potency of the Flying Eagles and that since I did not see the encounter against Croatia, I was not too much in a hurry to evaluate the team.
I then asked him the manner of the two goals we conceded and he said it was not complimentary.
Yes, the day sometimes tells the night. What the Flying Eagles have done so far is heart warming but it is too early yet to hand over the cup to them, given the equally superlative showings of countries like Egypt, Brazil, Argentina, host Colombia, France, Spain and Mexico among other potential second round qualifiers.
Yes, in tournaments of this nature it is the cup stage that separates the boys from the men. A slip, a fluke goal at this stage is enough to knock even the best of teams out.
For me therefore, I have always looked above the result of matches involving Nigeria in FIFA age group competitions. That, is the mistake Pele did when he predicted that if any African country was in the position of winning the World Cup, that country was Nigeria.
His, was a long term forecast, a prediction based on development. The FIFA website says as much, flaunting Maradona ( 1979 ) Messi ( 2005 ) and Adiyiah (2009 ) as some of the stars that used the U-20 World Cup as a pedestal to stardom.
For me therefore THIS U-20 World Cup should be a competition which win or lose will provide this country with enough materials on which to build the future of our football otherwise known as the SUPER EAGLES.
Come, are we not tired of winning FIFA youth tournaments just for winning sake? FIFA records have it that we have won the U-17 World Cup three times. Pray what has that done to the development of our game? Without having to go too far back, let me present to you the squad that won the U-17 trophy in Korea in 2007, players who four years hence should be about 20 today ( OR LESS ) since they were supposed to be UNDER 17, FOUR YEARS AGO!
That squad included Laide Okenlanwon, Ganiyu Oseni, Usman Amodu, Azeez Balogun, Kingsley Udoh, Daniel Joshua, King Osanga, Kabiru Akinsola, Macaulay Chrisanthus ( 7 goal hero, winner of golden shoe and silver ball ) Rabiu Ibrahim, Mathew Edile, Oladele Ajiboye, Yakubu Alpha (scorer of the goal of the tournament, a curling long range cracker against Colombia in the round of 16) Lukman Abdulkarim, Sherif Issa, Mustapha Ibrahim, Uremu Egbuta, Ademola Rafael, Saheed Fabiyi, Lukman Haruna and Uche Okafor……pray WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Let us come nearer home. In 2009, Nigeria hosted the Under 17 and lost in the final. That team was considered by FIFA to be good enough for the cup, since the Switzerland victory was rated an upset.
Again, given my expectations and that of the whole country that approved John Obuh’s elevation to the under 20, one would have expected all, if not majority of that team to move with him to the current crop of under twenty. Perhaps I should be grateful that as many as EIGHT of that team are in the present squad. That is, out of the TWENTY ONE players that Obuh took to the final of the Under 17 just two years ago, THIRTEEN have fallen by the way side in under two years. Curious isn’t it?
My research took me further to the starting eleven against Croatia, five of the eight 2009 squad started yet two of them were substituted.
Now, it is heart warming that coach Siasia is in Colombia to watch and to monitor potential Eagles stars. That , is how it should be. But, how many of those “stars” will survive Colombia? That, is my worry.
I wish Obuh and the Flying Eagles well, I wish Nigeria well, in the future, that is.
The Federation Cup
I start by congratulating Enyimba, Sunshine and Kaduna Utd for their exemplary showing in Africa last but one week end. In far away Kinshasa, it was proud being a Nigerian as the results came flooding in.
What I could not answer, was what the secret was. Back home in Nigeria I heard Mike Idoko of Sunshine wishing peace returns to our country’s football to the glory of the development of the game.
In the midst of the joy it saddened me to hear that the Confederation Cup had been planned without taking into cognizance the continental programmes of our teams.
Are we also aware that in the next two days Kaduna United and Sunshine will hit the road again?
Good luck Nigeria.
See you next week.