He may only have two goals for the all-conquering Golden Eaglets here at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, but the dynamic, free-moving attacker has been at the heart of the home side's smashing forward play since the offing. FIFA.com caught up with the midfielder-cum-striker after he scored a long-distance arrow of a winner against Korea Republic in the quarter-final.
"It's a special feeling to score a goal; any striker will tell you that. That's why you pull on the shirt in the first place," said Ajagun from a dark corner deep inside the U.J. Esuene Stadium in Calabar, eager to follow his mates onto the team coach and begin plotting the downfall of mighty Spain, their semi-final opponents. "All goals are special, but to score an important goal for your country makes it even more special."
He may wear the No9 shirt in this wildly impressive Nigerian outfit, but Ajagun is less an out-and-out goal-scorer and more of an attacking midfielder, moving forward into dangerous positions whenever the spirit moves him. A disciplined outfit under stern coach and task master John Obuh, the Nigerians still manage to swap positions freely and overlap with a masterful fluidity. Whether he's bursting towards the goal, or dropping off to help defend, Ajagun has been right on the money, linking up well with Stalney Okoro and Terry Envoh, as the Nigerian juniors aim to pick up their second straight U-17 world title.
It wasn't the most seamless start for the Eaglets, who only had a month or so to prepare as a full squad before the finals. But since opening with an heroic comeback and a 3-3 draw with Germany, the hosts have gone from strength to strength. "Our start wasn't that great; it's true," adds the Lagos-born lad who plays in Port Harcourt with two-time top-flight champions Dolphin FC. "We've been getting better, though, with every game. That is the sign of a strong team. We want to get even better still."
Spain date awaits
Ajagun and his battling mates will need to be at their very best when they meet Spain in Lagos on Thursday. Although the Europeans let a big lead slip and required penalties to edge Uruguay in their quarter-final, they are among the true class of this U-17 World Cup and will be no pushovers in the semi-final, a re-match of the 2007 U-17 final in Korea. "Spain will be tough. Any team that makes it to the last-four of a World Cup is going to be a tough team, that includes us too though," the youngster nearly shouts, eager for his point to be understood.
One thing bound to be going for the No9 and his Golden Eaglet mates at the Balogun Stadium will be home-field advantage. As the team's performances have increased in quality, so too have the home crowds in intensity and number. The 3-1 win over the Koreans, lively and dynamic up to that point, was roared on by a full house in Calabar. "Did you see the fans out there tonight?" asked Ajagun rhetorically. "They were amazing. The noise they made helped us the whole way and it makes me happy to have helped make them happy," added the player who began the competition as a substitute.
Ajagun, charmingly eager and ambitious, has big plans for his Eaglets. "I am not afraid to say it: I think we can win this tournament," he announces, almost unprovoked. "We have a good team, we are getting better all the time and we have the fans' support here in our homeland. Pulling on the green shirt of Nigeria gives me pride and makes me want to play my best possible football. I am sure it is the same with all of my team-mates."