Injured and substituted in the first match against Brazil, Nigerian captain and star striker Promise Isaac missed out on the second with Korea Republic entirely.  But with the player desperate to be back for the Group F decider with fancied Switzerland, coach Samson Siasia decided to roll the dice.

The gamble paid off as the powerful centre-forward had himself a blinder, scoring in the 85th minute to put the cap on a shimmering 3-0 triumph that sent Nigeria to the round of sixteen at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005.

Coyly describing his performance so far at the finals as "average," the player - set to make a move to French side Auxerre after a two-season trial at Manchester United - sees himself as improving all the time. 

"The injury is better now. I'm feeling like myself again," he remarked from under a stylish white Kangol cap in the lobby of the team hotel in Doetinchem.  "I am improving personally, though I wasn't happy with my first performance, and the team is getting better all the time too."

Following a team lunch where the Nigerians ate mere metres from their pending opponents in the round of 16, Ukraine, Promise admitted to knowing little - and caring even less - about the speedy, attack-minded Eastern Europeans. 

Only football on the brain
"We are here to play football," he remarked. "I hardly notice them (the Ukrainians). We're here to play and that's that, not to fight or make friends in the hotel."

Impossible to ignore on the pitch, the Ukrainians - with nine players from fabled club side Dynamo Kyiv - have looked one of the most effective attacking outfits at these finals, throwing everything forward in what sometimes looks a four-man frontline.   One player in particular who is difficult to miss - in the team hotel or out on the field - is towering striker Artem Milevskyi. At well over six-feet tall and with bags of skill in the Zlatan Ibrahimovic mold, his presence up front will worry the best of backlines.  And not known for their rearguard assurance, the Nigerians may well have a long day at the office on 22 June in Doetinchem as they try to corral the striker and his fantastic club and country team-mate, Oleksandre Aliiev. 

Even still, Promise is keeping his thoughts closer to home, choosing to focus only on Nigeria ahead of the first round of knockout matches. 

"We started a little shaky," the captain added. "But now we are ready to show what we can really do. Our first goal when we came here was to get out of the first round and now we can think about winning the title.  I am sure we will come out victorious with God's help."

"The first thing we need to do is to make the people of Nigeria proud," he continued. "We are playing for them, and they are here with us in our hearts.  With their support we can do anything."

Isaac describes his side's strengths in only the vaguest of terms. "We are a special team," he said. "We play with strength and fire and listen to what our coach tells us. We fight for each other and we will never stop fighting."

When asked if all this will be enough to beat Ukraine, a rare and wicked smile creeps across the players' lips. "Oh, I think so," he shrugged. And it sounds more a promise than a loose, cocksure prediction.