Five –time world champions, Nigeria flew out of Abuja yesterday on their way to Tanzania to take part in the 13th Africa U17 Cup of Nations taking place in that country, 14th – 28th April.
Players and officials were seen off at the airport by Acting President of NFF, Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi, who charged them to do the nation proud by lifting the U17 AFCON trophy in Dar es Salaam on 28th April.
The Golden Eaglets secured their ticket to Tanzania after winning the WAFU B U17 Tournament in Niger Republic in September last year, and will be aiming to be one of Africa’s four flag-bearers at the FIFA U17 World Cup finals now scheduled for Brazil later this year.
Nigeria, Africa’s U17 football powerhouse, edged fellow juggernauts Ghana on penalties in Niamey to secure their slot in Tanzania, and are in the same Group A as hosts Tanzania, Uganda and Angola.
Tanzania made their way into the draw automatically as hosts, while Uganda won the Central East zonal finals held in Tanzania in August last year, and Angola triumphed at the COSAFA U17 Tournament in Mauritius a month earlier.
Nigeria is making her 9th appearance in this competition, having won it twice previously (Seychelles 2001 and Togo 2007), while Tanzania is making a second appearance. Angola is making a fourth appearance, but it is a first-ever appearance at this level for Uganda.
Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal and Morocco make up Group B. Both Cameroon and Guinea are appearing for the 7th time at the U17 AFCON, while Morocco and Senegal are both appearing for the second time.
The Eaglets will take on their Tanzanian counterparts in Sunday’s tournament opener at the National Stadium, Dar es Salaam. An interesting variable in Sunday’s equation is the fact that Nigeria legend Emmanuel Amuneke, who is head coach of the Tanzania National Team, Taifa Stars (and recently qualified the Stars for a first-ever AFCON finals after 39 years) also oversees the other National Teams of Tanzania and would be involved in their technical preparation.
Amuneke is highly familiar with the Nigeria bench, which has Manu Garba as head coach and Nduka Ugbade as one of the assistants. When Manu Garba led the Golden Eaglets to win the FIFA U17 World Cup for the fourth time in the United Arab Emirates in 2013, Amuneke and Ugbade were his assistants.
Two years later, in Chile, Amuneke was the head coach as Nigeria won a fifth title at that level.
After Sunday’s encounter, the Eaglets will tackle Angola on Wednesday, 17th April and confront Uganda on Saturday, 20th April.