As first ever winners of the world title at this age group, Nigeria's Golden Eaglets will be the royalty on view at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007. They also go to the tournament as the reigning African champions, but there is no guarantee that their side in the competition, which begins on 18 August, will have a strong resemblance to that which won the continental championship on Togolese soil in March.
Nigeria are seeking to enhance their chances of winning a third world crown by strengthening their side and giving it even more of an edge. The Golden Eaglets want to match Brazil's record of three successes in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, and bring to Africa a first major success since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney when Cameroon won the gold medal at U-23 level.
Nigeria have long been the forerunners in youth football in Africa, their reservoir of talent seemingly never ending. And the U-17 side has been a consistent platform for the launching of numerous talents, the most famous of which, Nwankwo Kanu, went on to win the African Footballer of the Year award.
Nigeria marched through the African qualifiers for Korea 2007 with eight wins and one defeat in nine matches. More importantly, they won all of their matches at the eight-team Africa U-17 championship in Togo in March, confidently moving through the field to win the tournament.
To qualify for the continental event, the Golden Eaglets beat Rwanda both home and away for a 6-2 aggregate triumph, and then overcame Morocco 5-0 in the first leg of their last knockout round tie. They lost the return leg 1-0 for the only blemish on their record, but by then were virtually assured of a place in Togo.
Once on Togolese soil, Nigeria began at blistering place with an 8-0 win over newcomers Eritrea, a result which set the tone for their charge at the title. They then edged out Burkina Faso 2-1 before an encouraging 2-0 victory over arch-rivals Ghana, which ensured they finished top of their group with a 100 percent record, scoring 12 goals and just conceding one.
In the semi-finals Nigeria beat Tunisia 2-0, with both goals from Chrisanthus Macaulley, and then a lone goal in extra time in the Final against hosts Togo saw the Golden Eaglets win the tournament. The goal came from substitute Kabiru Akinsola, who is expected to be a key player in his country's quest to add the global crown to the continental one they won in Togo.
Given his lack of experience, Yemi Tella's appointment as coach of the Nigerian U-17 side raised a few eyebrows. A part-time tactician, Tella divides his time between the pitch and the lecture room, working at the National Institute for Sports. He had been an unknown figure when the Nigeria Football Association appointed him to the job, but it seems to have been a master stroke by the administrators. Tella has spent more time instructing coaches than players but has obviously found a golden touch with the players too. Tella called his critics "people without purpose" but his best response was the success for his side in the Africa U-17 Championship.
Ibrahim Rabiu is described as a potential new Jay-Jay Okocha, with his attacking guile and technically gifted playmaking role in the team. Observers say Rabiu, who is at Gateway FC, has fantastic vision and passing ability and is likely to be on his way to a European club after the tournament in Asia. Rabiu's is seen as the engine room of the Nigerian side that will compete at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
"By the time we will be coming back from Korea, we will be coming back with the World Cup." (Nigeria coach Yemi Tella speaking at a sponsorship function for the Golden Eaglets as they prepare for the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup)