Monday, 28th June 2021, will live forever in the memory of every football-loving fan after two dramatic and high-quality matches.
The Euro 2020 has been an exciting competition, but it reached its peak on Monday thanks to the two rounds of 16 matches.
Spain and Croatia was the first clash of the day, and the two teams served fans a classic as La Roja sealed a 5-3 thrilling victory on a sunny evening at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen.
It’s arguably the game of the tournament so far, but if there’s any other match that could make fans say otherwise, it’s the one that followed.
World champions and pre-tournament favourites France took on the less-fancied Swiss in the day’s other round of 16 game.
Switzerland were not given a chance going into the game, but they showed their intent from the start as Harris Seferovic gave them a shock lead in the 15th minute.
The Swiss had an opportunity to double their lead when they were awarded a penalty in the 55th minute, but Ricardo Rodriguez fluffed his lines.
It was an opportunity he would rue as France scored three times to take a two-goal lead. It looked like the French were on course for a win until Seferovic and substitute Mario Gavranovic scored in the last ten minutes to level the scores for Switzerland and send the match into extra time.
Neither side could find the winner in the 30 minutes that followed, and the match went into a penalty shootout, which the Swiss won after Kylian Mbappe missed the decisive penalty for France.
It was indeed a brilliant performance and a deserved win for the Swiss, given they had no chance going into the match and the challenge of coming back after missing an opportunity to go two goals up.
However, while it’s a performance the Swiss will remember for ages, it’s important to note that the foundation of this victory was laid in Nigeria 12 years ago.
Three players from the Swiss lineup on Monday were part of the Swiss U-17 team that won the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup hosted by Nigeria.
Captain and man of the match, Granit Xhaka, brace hero, Harris Seferovic and Ricardo Rodriguez, who missed the penalty, were all in the Swiss U-17 squad that conquered the world 12 years ago.
The Swiss’ success against France on Monday is a lesson for Nigeria. The Golden Eaglets also impressed at the 2009 U17 World Cup, but they lost to Switzerland in the final.
However, unlike Switzerland, only Kenneth Omeruo from that Golden Eaglets squad is currently playing for the Super Eagles, which shows you can’t cheat your ways to victory.
These age-grade tournaments organised by FIFA are seen as a chance to develop young talents, but for Nigerian football authorities and coaches, they see it as a win at all cost.
Over the years, players representing Nigeria at these age-grade competitions are overaged, which is why many of them don’t get to play at the top level.
One player that stood out from that Golden Eaglets team was Stanley Okoro, popularly called “little Messi” because he has the qualities of the Barcelona legend.
Okoro wowed fans with his amazing talents at the competition with three goals to his name. Another player that caught the eye was Sani Emmanuel, who finished as the joint top scorer along with Seferovic with five goals.
Following the tournament, many expected the two players to go on to achieve great things, but their careers faded into thin air even before it started.
It’s not a surprise, given it was clear to the naked eye that they were overaged at that U-17 World Cup. In contrast, eight of the players from that Swiss team went on to play for the national team, with three playing a key role in the win over France on Monday.
Although Nigeria also had players like Ogenyi Onazi, Kenneth Omeruo, Olanrewaju Kayode, and Ramon Azeez that would go on to play for the Super Eagles, their time at the top level was short.
Onazi claims to be 28-years-old, but the best club he could get right now is FK Žalgiris in Lithuania. Kayode, who is the youngest, currently plays for Sivasspor in Turkey.
Omeruo and Azeez are currently struggling in the Spanish second division with Leganes and FC Cartagena, respectively.
Meanwhile, players like Neymar Jnr, Philippe Coutinho, Casemiro, Alisson Becker, Emiliano Martinez, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Bernd Leno, Koke, Alvaro Morata, Pablo Sarabia and Sergi Roberto played at the tournament, and have gone to play for the biggest clubs.
The success of these players shows why cheating in age-grade competitions will always come back to haunt teams and players that lie about their ages.
Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets team that won the 2007 U-17 World Cup also suffered the same fate as their successor.
In fact, it was worse for the players in the 2007 set as none of them played for the national team or at the top level.
Macauley Chrisantus won the golden boot and the silver ball behind Toni Kroos, but he currently plays for a club in Finland.
In contrast, Kroos plays for Real Madrid and just finished representing Germany at Euro 2020, having won the World Cup in 2014.
The cheating has reduced in recent years, though, which is why the likes of Iheanacho, Osimhen and Ndidi have found success.
However, Nigeria football authorities and coaches need to stop the practice entirely as it doesn’t help the players or national team in the long run.
The team may win at that particular moment, but Switzerland and players used as examples have shown that you can’t cheat your way to success.