After their surprise 0-1 defeat to the Baby Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in the second game of the ongoing Africa Youth U-17 Championship in Morocco on Wednesday, Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets have been charged by former youth internationals, Peter Nieketien and Dimeji Lawal, to raise their game against Congo today in order to qualify for the semi-finals.
The Manu Garba-led team came into the competition with great pedigree having gone through the qualifying series undefeated and confirmed their superiority with a 6-1 whitewash of the Starlets of Ghana in their first Group B game in Marrakech last Sunday.
Success Isaac scored four of the goals to see the Golden Eaglets claim the maximum points, thus confirming their pretournament rating as one of the favourites to win the championship.
The Eaglets who won all their six championship qualifying games and scored a massive 21 goals while conceding only one, were however, brought down to earth by the resilient young Ivorians, whose late goal was enough to renew their chances of making it to the next round of the competition.
Nigeria, with three points, occupies the second position in the group behind Cote d’Ivoire who tops with four points after a round of two games and a draw for the Eaglets today against Congo should be enough to qualify the country for the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE after Congo and Ghana drew 1-1 on Wednesday.
But despite Nigeria’s loss to Cote d’Ivoire, both Nieketien and Lawal still rate the Eaglets as favourites to win the competition provided they make best use of their chances when they take to the field. According to the duo, their defeat by the Baby Elephants was a reality check which could have been more damaging had it happened during the knockout stages.
They, therefore, called on the players not to be complacent if they want to be crowned champions. “There is no cause for alarm at all because the team has shown everyone that it has the pedigree to become successful not only at this championship but even at the World Cup provided they qualify and they just have to be more disciplined and maintain maximum concentration each time they are on the field,” Nieketien, who represented Nigeria at the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship in Chile said.
“I guess their 6-1 bashing of Ghana made the second game difficult for them because their opponents devised a means of not conceding unnecessary goals, which was responsible for their inability to find the back of the net.
“But all hope is not lost as they have everything to play for against Congo and all they need is to approach the game with all seriousness and settle for nothing but maximum three points while it is also essential for them not to underrate any of their opponents as the tournament progresses.”
Nigeria has won the tournament twice, in Seychelles in 2001 and in 2007 when Togo hosted the tournament and Lawal who was obviously impressed with their games during the qualifiers, called on the players not to be discouraged but rather summon courage and convince everyone that they are worthy champions.
He said, “I once cried too after losing the finals in Canada ‘87 but this team has the opportunity of making things right on Saturday (today) and both the coaching crew and the players must work on their tactics against Congo in order to achieve good result.
“Though they are young players, but they must have learnt one or two lessons by now and must be ready to give their all for the duration of the tournament,” the former Shooting Stars of Ibadan player added. Ghana remains bottom of Group B with just a point from two matches and must now beat leaders Cote d’Ivoire in the final group match today and hope Nigeria beats Congo to qualify to the semi-finals and also book a slot to play at the U-17 World Cup in UAE.