By Kayode Ketefe
Tomorrow, the Nigerian U-17 national team, tagged the Golden Eaglets, will be squaring up in the very final match at the ongoing U-17 World Cup taking place in the United Arabs Emirates. They will face Mexico who are the defending champions, having won the cup when it hosted the competition two years ago.
Nigerian youths are talented bunch of humanity. This fact could be gleaned, even beyond sports to the universal realm, across the whole gamut of human endeavours. On the intellectual front, writers like Chimamanda Adichie and prodigies like Oluwatosin Helen Otitoju, who shattered the records at the Howard University, graduating with First Class in Electrical Engineering and set numerous other records in her post graduate studies, have all contributed in drawing attention to superlative talents of our youths.
How about Nigerian-born nine-year-old twins, Paula and Peter Imafidon who emerged the youngest pupils to be admitted to a secondary school in Britain? The twins had broken the world records when they passed A-level mathematics papers at the age of 7! Neither can we forget in a hurry the rare achievements of the Nigerian Whizkid, Saheela Ibraheem, who has so distinguished herself in Science and Mathematics at the age of 16 that she has now been listed in “The World’s 50 Smartest Teenagers” of our times.
Saheela was accepted into Harvard University and 13 other colleges simultaneously, including the famous MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Brown, Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Chicago. She chose to attend Harvard.
But theme of this piece is limited to the scope of accomplishment of our boys in the international youth soccer. While the country has won many laurels including gold, silver and bronze at both U-20 World Cup and the Olympic (played by the U-23 teams), the country greatest achievements have been posted at the U-17 World Cup with the team ruling the entire world, having already bagged three titles as champions, and three silver as runners-up.
The first Nigerian glory in this age category took place unexpectedly at the inception of the cadet championship then called FIFA Kodak U-16 World Tournament. In the said inaugural competition which held in China, a group of Nigerian boys captained by Nduka Ngbade shocked the world. Now, in less than 24 hours time the country will be battling to claim another gold as they battle Mexico for the trophy.
The bookmakers have already given the cup to Nigeria not only because Nigeria beat the same Mexican team by a whopping 6-1 during the group stage in this same competition, but also because the boys have exhibited amazing skills, dazzling all the opponents with their fantastic pace, nimble footwork and remarkable tactical awareness. They are the highest scoring side in the whole competition having scored a total 23 goals in their six matches played so far.
This averages 3.8 goals per match. Such was the amazing forms of the Eaglets that their skills have caught the attention of numerous scouts acting as agents for prestigious clubs all over Europe. The most outstanding attribute of this team is however their discipline and astounding level of commitment.
As a matter of fact the brilliant forms of the Eaglets so overwhelmed the Brazilian coach, Alexander Jallo, that he said the Eaglets played the best brand of football which Brazil loves to play!
After winning the cup in 1985, 1993 and 2007, and silver medals in 1987, 2001 and 2009, last Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over Sweden means Nigeria have reached the final for whopping seven times.
Speaking in similar vein, a member of the FIFA Technical Study Group, a Nigerian international, Sunday Oliseh, in his analysis done for FIFA, had this to say about the Eaglets. “The boys are extremely motivated but above all they’re very disciplined, which is very refreshing to see. They have a lot of good individual players.
“The way the side switches from defence to attack is very good, frequently with one-touch passes. That’s difficult to do as it requires a lot of movement, foresight and for all the players to support each other.”
But in spite of all these, it is unfortunate that the Nigerian system keeps suffocating the youths – the older generations have managed the affairs of the country into such a state that the youth are left with minimal opportunities.
They grow up in hostile environment suffused with corruption, unemployment, insecurity, moral decadence et al. Majority of them embrace the grim realities of unemployment or acute under-employment upon graduation from tertiary institutions.
This comprehensive frustration explains why some of them are misled into secret cultism, fraudulent activities and other forms of criminality.
Some of our girls with potential to excel have been turned into prostitutes home and abroad as a result of harsh realities foisted on them.
Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s match the Nigerian youth soccer profile has already been enhanced as our light once again shine on the global stage. Let me say congratulation Nigeria for the wonderful performance of our worthy ambassadors, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria.
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