FLYING EAGLES TARGET GOAL HARVEST
Coach John Obuh is confident that the Flying Eagles' sharp attack will propel Nigeria to clinch the elusive FIFA Under-20 World Cup trophy at the 18th edition of the biggest youth football tournament that got underway yesterday in faraway Colombia.
The Nigerian team largely drawn from the Under-17 squad, which finished as runner-up at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2009 on home soil, is in Colombia as reigning Africa's champion having won the last Africa Youth Championship in South Africa where it scored in all the matches it played.
'Our strategy is generally to field an offensive team and attack with confidence. In most of the competitions we have taken part in, we have usually emerged as the top scorers.' Obuh enthused recently ahead of the World Cup.
The Nigerian team, playing in Group D, begins its campaign in the early hours of tomorrow (3:00 am) against relative minnow, Guatemala, in the city of Armenia. Analysts not only see the encounter as a piece of cake for the Flying Eagles, but also describe the group that includes Croatia and Saudi Arabia as a promising draw for the Nigerian team.
But the Flying Eagles' gaffer cautions that the Under-20 World Cup is a different ballgame compared to the Under-17 tournament, insisting that the Flying Eagles are going to have to up their performance to reach such heady heights again.
'Players at the Under-20s have mostly all had experience playing at senior level for their clubs, and some have even played for their national teams, which makes it a lot more intense competition in comparison to the Under-17s,' he explained.
Obuh insists that past form is nothing to go by and explains why his reaction to the seemingly favourable draw for his side in Colombia lacked the expected enthusiasm.
'I had no different reaction to the draw than I had in all the other draws,' he said from Nigeria's pre-tournament training base in Portugal. 'I have always maintained that football these days, is so unpredictable and there has been so much development that no opponent could be seeing to be weaker than any other.'
The retinue of consummate strikers at Obuh's disposal in Colombia include VVV Venlo of Holland and Super Eagles' dashing winger, Ahmed Musa, the Nigeria 2009 silver-winning Golden Eaglets quartet of Omoh Ojabu, Abdul Ajagun, Terry Envoh and Sani Emmanuel. Others are Uche Nwafor, Olanrewaju Kayode, Maduabuchi and Edafe Egbedi.
Obuh is confident that his boys will get the job done and he has built up a strong relationship with the group. 'The players listen to instructions and they play to our plans, but they also bring their own personal attributes to the team.
'It's a good thing for us. I've emphasised to the players that they must learn to take one step at a time. They really need to concentrate on the job at hand before worrying about getting contracts overseas.'
The trophy has been lifted by just eight teams in the competition's history, with the most recent being Ghana that claimed the prize two years ago in Egypt. Argentina tops the list with a record six triumphs, Brazil four times and Portugal twice. Spain, Germany, former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Ghana have all won the trophy once each.
The 2011 battle commenced yesterday, as teams from six continents began their campaign to qualify from the group stages and ultimately to run out onto the pitch in Bogota on August 20 to challenge for the title itself.
For the 504 players taking part in the tournament, it is a chance to follow in the footsteps of former Golden Boot winners, Diego Maradona, Robert Prosinecki, Seydou Keita, Javier Saviola, Ismail Matar, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Dominic Adiyiah, whose dazzling performances at the premier youth championship laid the foundations for their stellar careers.
Whose star would shine the brightest this time around, and which side would be crowned the best youth side on the planet in 2011? Could a new team add its name to the list of eight strong former champions? Could it be Nigeria's Flying Eagles? Time shall tell!
Group A Time Venue
Mali vs Korea Republic 17:00 Bogota
Colombia vs France 20:00 Bogota
Cameroon vs New Zealand 17:00 Cali
Portugal vs Uruguay 20: 00 Cali