Five-time world champions, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria will tonight kick-start their campaign at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup as they take on European opponents Hungary in the opening match of Group B at Estádio Olímpico, Goiania in Brazil.
Having been champions in 1985, 1993, 2007, 2013 and 2015, the Golden Eaglets are in the hunt for their sixth title to maintain dominance of the youth football championship.
The Eaglets were runners up on three occasions, at Canada 1987, Trinidad and Tobago 2001 and 2009 when Nigeria hosted the youth tournament.
They also hold the record for the highest number of goals scored in a single competition at this level.
The Kelechi Iheanacho inspired Golden Eaglets scored a whopping 26 goals on their way to winning their fourth title in the United Arabs Emirates in 2013.
Although they have dominated the championship, the Eaglets failed to qualify for the 2017 edition that was staged in India. The team didn’t even qualify for the U-17 AFCON which serves as qualifiers for the World Cup.
Interestingly, the same technical crew that failed to qualify the team for the last edition is in charge of the squad of 2019 that is aiming for glory in Brazil.
To qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil, the Manu Garba led team placed fourth at the 2019 AFCON U-17 Championship in Tanzania.
Although they lost 1-2 to Angola to miss out on top-three finish for the third time in a row, it is on record that the team finished in the same fourth place in 2015 but a few months later, they went on to win their fifth world title in Chile.
Consequently, even as they are not in Brazil as continental champions, the Golden Eaglets are rated among the top favourites to lift the coveted trophy that is at stake.
Their opponents in tonight’s fixture last played in the U-17 World Cup 34 years ago, which was the inaugural edition staged in China in 1985. Hungary are therefore making their second appearance in the competition.
In their debut, Hungary shocked the world as they defeated one of the tournament’s favourites Brazil, but their luck ran out when they met eventual winners, Nigeria, losing 1-3 in the quarter-finals.
The Golden Eaglets of 2019 are therefore expected to draw inspiration from the victory in 1985 as they go up against their opponents tonight.
After several months of rigorous screening and participation in international competitions, Coach Garba has settled for the best 21 lads for the assignment in Brazil.
The team built around young players who are plying their trade in football academies in Nigeria boasts of influential stars like the captain Samson Tijani, Peter Agba, Ibrahim Said, Monsuru Opeyemi, Olakunle Olusegun, Wisdom Ubani, Akinwunmi Amoo, Ibraheem Jabaar and Divine Nwachukwu.
Some of these youngsters are said to be so talented that they are already the interest of some big football clubs in Europe.
Apart from the players, the coach of the team is vastly experienced as far as the world U-17 championship is concerned.
Before he guided the Golden Eaglets to their fourth title in UAE, Manu Garba was late Coach Yemi Tella’s assistant when the team won their third title in South Korea in 2007.
He was promoted to the national U-20 team, the Flying Eagles where he won the AFCON U-20 title in 2015 in Senegal but enjoyed less success with the same team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
The star-studded squad comprising of players like Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi, Kingsley Sokari, Musa Mohammed, Isaac success, Musa Yahaya, Saviour Godwin, Moses Simon and Chidiebere Nwakali ended their campaign in the Round of 16.
Considering his knowledge of youth football, Garba was recalled again to handle the squad of 2017 but as earlier stated, he failed to qualify the team for the world championship in India.
Despite the failure, he was called upon again in 2018 and has already achieved his initial target of qualifying the team for Brazil 2019. He is now eying his second title as coach of the Golden Eaglets.
With a backroom staff comprising of Coach Nduka Ugbade, the man who lifted the first FIFA U-17 trophy as captain of the Eaglets, the team may not be lacking in technical depth.
Speaking to FIFA.com in Brazil, Garba is optimistic of etching Nigeria’s name further in the history of the competition.
“Everyone should get ready to see a fantastic Nigerian team that plays great football and have the trophy in their sights.
“Ecuador, Hungary and Australia are undoubtedly strong teams that we respect, but we are record-breaking world champions and I was involved in two of our title wins.
“The will to win every game is part of the DNA of every Nigerian team, and my team here in Brazil is no exception,” he said.
After their opening match tonight, the Golden Eaglets will face Ecuador in their second group match on October 29 at the same venue. Ecuador is making their fifth appearance in the championship after their debut in 1987.
Then on November 1 at the Estadio Bezerrão, Nigeria will play their last group game against Australia who out of the four Asian teams in Brazil, boasts of the best record at the FIFA U-17 World Cup with a total of 12 appearances.
Notably, they stormed to the final at New Zealand 1999, reached the quarter-finals six times and made it to Round of 16 on another two occasions.
Considering Nigeria’s intimidating profile in this championship, expectations are high that they won’t only come out of their group, but go all the way to clinch their sixth world title on November 17.