After beguiling everyone with their free-flowing attacking football in the group phase, so much so that many an expert tipped them to go all the way, the Nigeria squad were understandably forlorn as they contemplated their exit from the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 on Sunday evening.
The pain of their 3-2 extra-time quarter-final defeat to France was still etched on the players’ faces as they emerged from the bowels of the Estadio Pascual Guerrero in Cali, some 90 minutes after the final whistle had called time on their Colombian adventure.
Their compelling brand of football had not gone unappreciated, however, and as they filed out tournament volunteers and stadium officials lined up to give them a heartfelt round of applause, an indication of the high regard the locals have for the African entertainers.
“We love these people. We love Colombia,” said an appreciative Edafe Egbedi, one of the few members of the disconsolate Nigeria squad able to summon up the energy to speak to FIFA.com in the wake of their untimely exit.
“We made a good impression here and this support reflects that,” he added, confirming the views expressed by coach John Obuh in the press conference that followed the game. “We played as a team throughout the competition and we stayed strong. We’re very pleased with the support that Colombia has given us and we feel right at home. They wanted us to win.”
Mixed in with the dejection is a sense of pride at Nigeria’s achievements at Colombia 2011. For the first time ever the Flying Eagles recorded four straight FIFA U-20 World Cup wins, scoring 15 goals in the process, thanks to a potent combination of searing pace, pure technique and ruthless finishing. Group opponents Croatia and Guatemala both fell to heavy defeats as the likes of Ahmed Musa, Olarenwaju Kayode and Egbedi served notice of their rich potential.
“It was a game we could have won,” the forward continued, ruing his side’s misfortune against Les Bleus. “Unfortunately for us, we weren’t on top of our game and we didn’t put France under the same pressure that we did other teams. We had high hopes but we left too much space and that’s why we’re sad. That’s football though.
“We showed we can go far if we work at it,” he added, taking the positive view. “Our dream was to win the title but I think we’ve learned a lot here, and the team will be more prepared by the time the next World Cup comes around.”
The diminutive striker can also be satisfied with his contribution to the Nigerian cause, building on his showing at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, where he scored three goals en route to the hosts’ defeat to Switzerland in the final. In striking a further three goals at Colombia 2011 he has joined a select band of players, one that includes Ronaldinho and Seydou Keita, who have found the back of the net in both competitions.
“I scored three goals at the U-17 World Cup and I remember telling myself that I was going to improve and score even more at the U-20 World Cup,” Egbedi said. “My dream was to score five or six here, and though things didn’t work out that way, I think my performances were pretty good overall.”
Those performances were made all the better by the fact the promising striker is currently without a club. Training alone or with his local side Warri Wolves, who have occasionally fielded him in friendly matches and are not reluctant to sign him, the 18-year-old Egbedi is content to bide his time, waiting for a foreign club to come in for him. Judging by his displays over the last fortnight or so, the offers should soon be coming thick and fast.
“That was my other dream: to play well enough to get spotted and earn a good move to Europe. And I showed that I can play for a big club there. I’m young and I’m only going to improve.”
Though Egbedi’s Colombian sojourn has been cut cruelly short, both he and his fellow Flying Eagles have every reason to believe their future will be a bright one.