One of the most successful of all youth teams, Nigeria's side at the U-20s are coming to Canada 2007 with diminished expectations after a relatively poor qualifying campaign and a late coaching change. However, the 2005 finalists are still considered favourites to beat talented CONCACAF side Costa Rica in their Group F opening match at Royal Athletic Park.
Anxious to live up to the high expectations of their supporters, the Flying Eagles will definitely want to avoid any rumblings of disappointment by starting off their tricky group campaign with a resounding success. However, the skilful 'Ticos' have the speed and striking power to take advantage of any immature attacking by the Nigerians.
The Costa Ricans who will be key to exploiting any defensive lapses by the Africans are playmaker Celso Borges and flamboyant striker Jean Solorzano. Solorzano will be joined by six of his Alajuela team mates in the side, the third most of any club at the event - behind only Congolese club ACNFF (14 players in the tournament) and Spanish giants Real Madrid (eight).
In their only previous meeting at the FIFA U-20 World Championship, the Central Americans stunned their hosts with a 1-1 draw in Lagos when the West African nation hosted the event in 1999. Along with being runners-up in 2005, where they lost to Argentina in the final 2-1, Nigeria also reached the final in 1989, where they lost to the Portugal. The Africans have qualified for this event more times (seven) than any other African nation.
"It will be a good challenge, but it's one we are excited and ready for. Costa Rica is not an easy team. I respect them, and they are definitely dangerous. But, this is not a new thing to us because we met them in 1999 at home in the U-20 World Cup, and they drew us 1-1 in the opening match. I also was an assistant when we played their U-17 team in Finland (in 2003), and we struggled to draw with them by the same score. They are very sound technically and physically strong, so it should be a good match ... This is a huge tournament for Nigeria, and the boys know that. They are young, but they are here to sell themselves and give their best. We have been working tirelessly, and the lads are up for this." Ladan Bosso, Nigeria coach.
"We obviously have a lot of respect for Nigeria. I am sure it will be a difficult game, but we can only do our best. I started training many of these players, 10 of them, at the last U-17 World Cup in Peru, so, I know them well. I expect us to win tomorrow and then we will try to get out of the group." Costa Rica coach, Geovanni Alfaro Hernandez.
"We have become very comfortable here in Canada. Tomorrow is going to be a good game, a difficult game. But, we can only do what we know how to do. We believe in ourselves and our skill. If we do the things that we know we can do, we will get a result that we'll like. Cesar Elizondo Quesada, Costa Rica forward.