Nigeria may have won the FIFA U-17 World Cup a record four times but their last outing in the United Arab Emirates two years ago still evokes memories as the West Africans head to Chile to defend their title. The Eaglets begin their title defence against the USA tomorrow in Satiago, Chile.
The ‘Class of 2013’ guided by Manu Garba played football with an uncommon élan which bowled over everyone from the start to the end of the tournament where they were crowned world champions, following the trail of their illustrious predecessors of 1985, 1993 and 2007.
The enterprising Nigerians who were losing finalists at the Africa U-17 Cup of Nations in Morocco early in 2013, left nobody in doubt about their ambition to conquer the world again with a blistering start of their campaign with a 6-1 spanking of Mexico, then defending champions in the Group F opener at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
But the Nigerians were jolted to the reality that the World Cup at whatever level is not a tea party three days later in their next game against Sweden. The Scandinavian debutants shocked the West Africans with a 3-3 draw at the same venue.
The Golden Eaglets bounced back in style in the ultimate Group F match against Iraq at Al Rashid Stadium in Dubai ending the match with a flattering 5-0 win courtesy a brace from Musa Yahaya and a goal each from Musa Muhammed, Chidiebere Nwakali and Chigozie Obasi. The result saw Nigeria top the group with seven points and a date with another Asian side, Iran at the Round of 16 in Al Ain, where the West African triumphed 4-1.
Nigeria saw off Uruguay 2-0 at the quarters thanks to a Taiwo Awoniyi double.
Making of World Champions
Like the proverbial saying ‘what goes around comes around’ goes around; so was the case with the Golden Eaglets as fate yet again brought them face-to-face with group phase rivals, Sweden and Mexico at the semis and final respectively.
Sweden coach Roland Larsson was graceful in defeat after his side were thumped 3-0 by the West Africans for a place at the grand finale.
“I think we played against the world champions today; if you are going to beat Nigeria, you have to play without mistakes and take your chances,” Larsson admitted.
Yet the talk before the Final Match at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi was a possible revenge for the defending champions, Mexico who felt humiliated after an earlier 6-1 massacre in the hands of the Golden Eaglets at the group stage.
An own goal by Javier Aguirre coupled with second half strikes from Kelechi Iheanacho and Musa Mohamed landed the Golden Eaglets the ultimate for a record fourth time.
“Of course, I have won this trophy before. I was an assistant coach when Nigeria won the trophy in 2007. But winning it on Friday (November 8, 2013) by beating Mexico would be the best moment of my coaching career,” a very excited Garba told a packed audience at the post match conference.
Apart from winning the trophy on offer, Nigeria remarkably swept almost all the individual honours with the Golden Ball (Best Player) and Silver Boot (second top scorer) going to Iheanacho and Golden Glove for goalkeeper Dele Alampasu. The team also claimed the Fair Play trophy.
Back to the future
Can the ‘Class of 2015’ replicate the successes of their predecessors at the forthcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup taking place in Chile between October 17 and November 8?
The team is now under the watch of former African Footballer of the Year, Emmanuel Amuneke who incidentally was assistant coach to Manu Garba when the Golden Eaglets won the title two years ago in the United Arab Emirates.
“I think it would be wrong to compare this team with the last team that won the World Cup in the UAE though I was part of that process. We will do our best in the defence of our title in Chile,” noted Amuneke.
The Golden Eaglets are housed in Group A with hosts Chile, Croatia and USA.
For the records: Where are Golden Eaglets of 2013 now?
How time flies for the Nigeria’s 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup squad after their remarkable success in the United Arab Emirates?
So much has happened to the careers of the lads being regarded as the country’s ‘Next Golden Generation’ with the likes of Isaac Success (Granada) and Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City) already enjoying the spotlight respectively in the Spanish La Liga and English Premier League.