As winners of the last FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea Republic, the current crop of Nigerian talent should be firm favourites as they step up an age group to compete the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt. But a far from convincing performance at the recent African Youth Championships has left the Nigerians short on confidence resulting in a overhaul of the coaching staff. Nigeria finished third at the African qualifiers in Rwanda in January, a performance that was good enough to see them reach Egypt but not good enough for a demanding public back home. Following the tournament, former international and Olympic coach Samson Siasia was appointed to take over from Ladan Bosso in a drastic reaction to a perceived dip in fortunes.
In Kigali in January, the Flying Eagles lived up to their nickname by roaring through the preliminary stage of qualifying to ensure qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup before the end of the first round. With a top place finish in Group B, their pedigree looked as perfect as before although there were already rumblings back home about the standard of their play. The catalyst of the criticism was a 2-1 defeat to South Africa although the Flying Eagles made sure of top spot on goal difference by beating Cote d'Ivoire 3-0 in their final game. In the semi-final they suffered a 2-0 defeat against Cameroon before avenging their earlier loss to South Africa by triumphing 2-1 in the bronze medal play-off.
Samson Siaisa was one of Nigeria's early exports to the top leagues of Europe and a member of their 1994 FIFA World Cup™ squad, the first time the giant West African country had qualified for world football's ultimate showpiece. He began his career in Belgium with Lokeren but made his name in Ligue 1 in France with Nantes. As his playing career came to an end, Siasia moved to USA where he established a coaching academy. His abilities were quickly spotted by the Nigerian Football Association and he verified their faith in his ability by leading Nigeria to the silver medal at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008. He also led Nigeria to the final of the 2005 U-20 World Cup in the Netherlands, where a side led by Jon Obi Mikel were outdone only by Lionel Messi's Argentina.
Rabiu Ibrahim has been tagged the crown prince of African football for two years now, since a stellar performance at the last FIFA U-17 World Cup in the Far East. The Nigerian prodigy was signed by Sporting Lisbon last year and is being hailed as Nigeria's new ‘Okocha', a reference to his role as the conductor of the side in the same style as the much-loved Jay-Jay. The captain of the Flying Eagles is Lukman Haruna, who has already been capped at full international level by his country.
• Nigeria hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1999.
• They finished runners-up at Netherlands 2005
• Nigeria have competed at seven previous FIFA U-20 World Cups.
• They have won 13 of their 35 matches at the U-20 finals, with 10 draws and 12 defeats.
What they said...
"I'm confident we can turn things around as soon as possible. We have all the material we need in Nigeria to achieve success. Good attitude, professionalism and dedication all matter a lot," Nigeria U-20 coach Samson Siasia.