In a couple of days, the FIFA U-17 World Cup kicks off in Chile where the Golden Eaglets will be aiming for an unprecedented title number 5.
The Eaglets are not the best team in Africa but are going to the global event with huge optimism and the high expectations of millions of their compatriots.
If we could have a repeat of the last edition at the United Arab Emirates, I’m certain majority of Nigerians would gladly play back the scenes and have the title wrapped up in similar style.
That team also didn’t go to UAE as African champions but got its acts together at the tourney and blew all comers away.
Thankfully, Emmanuel Amuneke, the current head coach, was part of the coaching staff that put that team together and hopefully he would have rinse and repeat the same winning formula.
Coincidentally, after the success of that tournament, top European clubs that had been experiencing a dearth of top quality Nigerian youngsters started falling head over heels to sign up the teenagers.
The ultimate task before the coach may be daunting but it can be simply stated: win the competition.
Truth is every team participating has a chance of lifting the trophy, but as defending champions who have had no hitch in preparation and have been together for a while now, the Golden Eaglets stand an even better chance than the other teams.
It should however not be considered failure if this team does not lift the trophy in Chile.
Strangely, all four of our previous titles have been won on Asian soil (China ‘85, Japan ‘93, Korea ‘07 & UAE ‘13). And since Chile is in the chilliest part ofSouth America, Nigerians should not be totally disappointed if the team doesn’t win the 2015 edition.
It would be great if we won but we are not the only country entitled to that trophy.
Just as important as winning, is playing well.
At the African tourney in February, Amuneke’s team looked disjointed and lacking in fight when succumbing tamely to South Africa and Guinea in the knockout rounds.
The one-time Africa Best Player would do well to avoid a repeat performance. Nigerians can live with mediocrity in the rank of the Super Eagles but the U-17 side, they can’t ignore. There’s an avalanche of talented teenagers literally on every single street from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt.
Any coach who can’t give us Kelechi Iheanacho, Dele Alampasu and Awoniyi every two years from the same production line that churned out the likes of Akpoborie, Adepoju,Kanu, Babayaro, Ikpeba and countless others is not worth is measure in cow dung.
Beyond winning, Nigerians expect a team strewn together with the never-say-die Nigerian spirit: full of guts, not lacking in balls, ready for a fight and not afraid to be creative. A joy to watch when attacking, not shy in front of goals and resolute when defending.
We want a team that will have a brilliant outing, go as far as possible and not be humiliated even in defeat.
In short, a team as exciting as the Nigerian coach on his way to winning theAfrica Player of the Yearaward in 1994.
We would like to see emerge from the competition another set of talented youngsters in the ilk of Iheanacho and Awoniyi, blessed with the football talents that can one day be developed into world class quality.
That is the task before coachEmmanuel Amuneke.
This is the first time he will be in-charge of any of the national sides. Even though his audition didn’t go as projected at the African championships earlier in the year, fortunately he was able to secure this World Cup ticket and he wasn’t sacked.
Now he has a second chance to make a great first impression.
And if he can excel at the assignment ahead, then he may kick-start a great managerial career that may eventually see him take charge of the Super Eagles.
Fail, and he may lose reckoning in future national callings, swallowed by the task that should have been a springboard.