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History beckons on Eaglets

•As they gun for back-to-back World Cup triumph

Kick-off: 11p.m.

Nigeria will again enter the history books today as only the second country to retain the U17 World Cup should they beat fellow Africans Mali in the final.

Brazil were the first team to successfully defend this trophy – they won in 1997 and retained it in 1999.

The Golden Eaglets have already won the competition a record four times, but they will go a step further if they successfully defend the trophy they won two years ago in Abu Dhabi.

Today’s showdown will be the second  all-African FIFA U17 World Cup final  since 1993, when Nigeria beat Ghana 2-1 at Japan ’93.

Nigeria coach Emmanuel Amuneke  said: “The Malians are the African champions, and we have to respect them. Aside that, they have also had a  great  tournament here in Chile. But  we are  a  team who find a way to  play  and function no matter  the difficulty posed by the opposition.

When  Sunday  comes, we are going to play Mali and I think it is going to be an interesting match.

We thank God, we are going to play the final again  on Sunday  and this gives us the opportunity to defend the trophy we won in 2013.”

Two years ago, both West African countries were involved in a highly publicised qualifier – Nigeria beat a team of “man mountains” from Mali 2-0 in Calabar, before they eliminated the young Eagles 3-0 in the return leg in Bamako.

Last year, the rivals clashed again with the Golden Eaglets doing the double over Mali in the WAFU B U17 Championship in Togo, winning on both occasions 2-0. Nigeria beat Mexico 4-2 in the semi-final after they defeated USA (2-0), Chile (5-1), Australia (6-0) and Brazil (3-0). Their only loss was 2-1 to Croatia.

Mali, on the other hand, saw off Belgium 3-1 to reach the final after they went past Ecuador (2-1), Honduras (3-0), North Korea (3-0) and Croatia (1-0). They were earlier held to a goalless draw by Belgium.

The final is going to be a tough and interesting contest as both teams have potent strike force with the athletic Nigeria having scored 21 goals, while the bigger and more physical Mali, who are ranked best attacking team with 132 goal attempts at the competition with 12 goals scored.


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