John Obi Mikel ’s Chelsea may have lost, Sunday Oliseh may have fallen sick, and Emmanuel Emenike may have called time on his Super Eagles career.
But it’s still been an excellent week for Nigerian soccer and the nation’s football teams, as both the U-17 team secured top spot in Group A at the ongoing youth World Cup, and the home-based Eagles advanced past Burkina Faso to seal a spot at the Championship of African Nations.
Emmanuel Amuneke, first of all, deserves credit for his management of the precocious Super Eaglets.
The U-17 team, whose heritage in young competitions was discussed in a recent feature, headed into the young World Cup in Chile with the weight of great expectation on their shoulders.
Amuneke | The coach has guided the kids through to the Last 16Not only are Nigeria the competition’s reigning champions but, having previously won the tournament a record four times, much was expected of the current crop. Nigeria are not only expected to win, but to do so in style.
They duly tore through their group stage in emphatic style, defeating the United States 2-0 thanks to second-half goals from Chukwudi Agor and Victor Osimhen, before devastating hosts Chile 5-1 in Vina del Mar.
Some of the squad’s higher-profile players, figures such as Kelechi Nwakali and the aforementioned Osimhen, have delivered on their pre-tournament promise.
Admittedly, Amuneke’s outfit ended their superb run with defeat to Croatia in their final group game—despite taking the lead through Osimhen—but Eaglets fans shouldn’t be too down-hearted.
Osimhen | How big can his impact be in the latter stages of the U-17 World Cup?Nigeria, missing suspended forward Funsho Bamgboye, played cautiously—a showing in contrast to their mesmerising attacking display against Chile—and are unlikely to be so chastened in their Round of 16 clash with Australia on October 28.
Nonetheless, Amuneke will know that his side must improve on their last outing, particularly in defence, if they are to realise pre-tournament expectations.
“We have to keep working hard and prepare our players physically and psychologically for the match [against Australia] especially after losing our last group match to Croatia,” the coach and former Super Eagles great told the NFF’s official website.
“We have to let the players realize that the stage we are in now is crucial and it needs high level of concentration from them.”
While Amaju Pinnick will doubtless be largely delighted with the way the nation’s youth side have flown the flag for the country’s football in South America, the showing of the home-based Eagles was arguably as encouraging.
Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh, like his predecessor Steven Keshi, has not been afraid to incorporate players plying their trade in the NPFL into Nigeria squad, and the excellent showings of some of his squad members in the home-based squad—even if the coach wasn’t there to witness first hand—ought to improve the chances of some domestic players in the senior squad.
Having won the first leg in Port Harcourt 2-0, Nigeria cruised to the tournament proper—to be held in Rwanda next year—after securing a 0-0 draw away in Ouagadougou.
Chima Akas, an increasingly regular fixture in the Super Eagles squad, was impressive at left-back in the second leg, showing his maturity with a composed and measured performance.
Goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa made a handful of smart stops and may find himself higher up in the senior side’s pecking following the retirement of Vincent Enyeama.
Could Akas do enough to reclaim the left-back spot from Elderson Echiejile?Austin Oboroakpo in the heart of defence and Ezekiel Bassey—who came good in the second leg after a an anonymous showing in the first match—might also be hoping for a call from Oliseh later this week.
“I am the chairman of the League, and I am convinced one hundred percent that we have quality in the League,” Shehu Dikko began, in an interview with the NFF’s official website, “and that more home boys can break into the full Super Eagles squad.”
He may just get his wish.
Nigeria won the bronze medal in South Africa in 2014, their first showing in the Chan tournament, and will harbour realistic hopes of making the final at the tournament in Rwanda next year.
In the meantime, don’t be surprised to see one or two of the home-based squad invited for the Super Eagles’ upcoming World Cup qualifier against Swaziland.
The U-17 boys may have to wait a little longer yet for the call from Oliseh, but as their showings in Chile indicate, their time will come!