It remains a mystery why Nigeria’s senior side have not yet reached the pinnacle of world football given that at youth level they top the list of FIFA U-17 World Cup wins alongside Brazil, having secured their third title in Korea 2007. Under late coach Yemi Tella, players like Macauley Chrisantus and Rabiu Ibrahim proved Asia is a happy hunting ground for the Golden Eaglets, who claimed their first two world titles in China 1985 and Japan 1993.
As hosts of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009, Nigeria did not have to qualify, but in a bid for match sharpness they took part in the qualifying stage for the African U-17 Championship. This, however, proved to be a rather short-lived experience after they suffered a shock first-round exit at the hands of Benin. Then coached by Alphonsus Dike, who was followed by Henry Nwosu and most recently John Obuh, the Nigerians had the next round in their sights after a 2-0 first-leg win in Port Harcourt courtesy of a goal from Lawal Hassan and an Adam Linus penalty. But the Baby Squirrels staged a dramatic fightback, recording a 3-0 win in Benin with the crucial third coming in the dying seconds.
Despite this, there is no doubt that come October, buoyed by their passionate and vociferous home fans, Nigeria will be an entirely different prospect. Nonetheless, their traditional strengths of physicality, technique and discipline will have to shine stronger than ever if they are to become the only team to lift the coveted trophy four times.
With their wide array of talent and excellent record, Nigeria always rank amongst the favourites for youth competitions, and this year is no exception. As hosts, holders and three-time champions the odds are stacked in their favour as it is, but the Golden Eaglets also have a number of up-and-coming jewels in their crown. A worthy successor to Arsenal favourite Nwankwo Kanu and Chrisantus is Stanley Okoro, who has been in superb form for Heartland in this year's CAF Champions League. "My goal is to turn a group of individuals into a tight-knit unit where each player gives everything for his team-mates and remains focused for the entire match," said Obuh upon taking the reins as coach. "I have now achieved this and I know that this team can measure up against any opposition."
Facts and figures
Jonathan Akpoborie (1985), Victor Ikpeba (1989), Nwankwo Kanu, Wilson Oruma (1993), John Obi Mikel (2001), Macauley Chrisantus (2007)
Stanley Okoro (forward), Olanrewaju Kayode (forward), Terry Envoh (forward)
The numbers game
3 - The number of world U-17 titles won by Nigeria, a record the Golden Eaglets share with Brazil.