By Pat Muo
Although the Golden Eaglets crashed out of the Under 17 CAF soccer championships concluded at the weekend, Nigeria still qualified for the FIFA Under -17 world cup tournament billed for Chile later in the year.
South Africa, the surprise team to this year’s edition, humbled Nigeria’s highly-rated Golden Eaglets 1-0 to advance to the grand finale of the competition held in Niamey, Niger Republic.
However, since four countries are billed to represent Africa in the FIFA competition, Nigeria went through alongside the other three semi-finalists Mali, South Africa and Guinea.
Although the reigning world champions stunned the world with this outing, their officials extended the disappointment from their poor outing by expressing total satisfaction with the team’s performance in the tournament.
Emmanuel Amuneke, head coach of the Golden Eaglets, told Soccer24.com on arrival from the tournament that the team performed creditably. “The boys performed creditably,” he told anxious sports journalists who sought for answers to the Eaglets’ ouster in the semi-finals by South Africa.
“We didn’t do badly,” he insisted. “The playing pitches in Niamey were horrible, particularly the one in which we lost to South Africa. The condition of the pitches gave us no room to establish our game. I commend the boys for going that far. At least, we qualified for the Under 17 world cup in Chile.”
Amuneke should have heard himself! When he played for the Super Eagles, Amuneke was no doubt, the most dogged player in the Eagles and a model for other players. He was a clear study in determination, a dogged fighter in the outside left position. Amuneke’s resilience in the field of play led FC Barcelona of Spain’s officials to employ him for the Spanish club, and yes, he did not disappoint
The strong and dashing forward will never be forgotten by Nigerians for winning the 1994 version of the African Cup of Nations for Nigerian in Tunisia in the grand finale against Zambia. Amuneke’s brace won the trophy for the Super Eagles and Nigeria in a dramatic encounter in which the Zambians opened scoring in the first ten minutes and resisted every onslaught till the end of the first half.
In the FIFA World Cup finals in the United States of America that same year, Amuneke, alongside Daniel Amokachi and Finidi George, were the arsenals in Nigeria’s armoury as the Super Eagles stupefied the entire world in their first outing at that world cup.
Last week, as head coach of the Golden Eaglets, Amuneke simply failed Nigerians, letting the African Under 17 trophy slip out of Nigeria’s fingers.
South Africa, Nigeria’s surprise conquerors, could not believe it! “Do all you can in African football but please, do not dare Nigeria in the under 17 soccer championships.” That had been the popular opinion of African countries before last week’s loss by the Eaglets to South Africa.
Even Joules Mashaba, head coach of South Africa’s national team, re-echoed this in Niamey before his country dismissed the Golden Eaglets: “Well, I am from South Africa and I suppose one cannot deny one’s origin. But in competitions like the Under 17 soccer championship, one wishes to be called a Nigerian. Their team is a beauty to behold on the pitch. They play football the way it should be played. Today, no African nation complains that they have won the championships more than any other country in Africa.”
Why is it so, he was asked. “The Nigerians represent Africa very well in the Under 17 world championship. Africa is proud of them. They don’t just play, they almost always, win the world cup for themselves, for Africa. So, we’re proud.”
“Even now, Africa is the current world champions in the FIFA under 17. That is possible because of Nigeria. Their boys are good, really good.”
This year’s edition is billed for Chile and FIFA has already approved for the competition to be held from October 17 to November 8, 2015.