Fresh off the team coach from Doetinchem where they earned a workman-like 1-0 victory over Ukraine, Nigeria and head coach Samson Siasia are settling into their new home down south in Kerkrade.
Few expected the Africans to escape what was rumoured to be the toughest group at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. Even fewer expected them to slip past impressive and powerful Ukraine in the round of sixteen. But with a cohesive team, a wily tactical brain on the touchline and a bit of luck from left-back Taye Taiwo, the Flying Eagles managed to soar in to the quarter-finals.
After drawing Brazil, hammering Switzerland and sneaking past Ukraine, the Nigerians will need to keep their underdog antics up in kerkrade when they take on rampaging hot-hand Holland on 25 June at the Parkstad Limburg Stadium. The most-ferocious side at these finals, the hosts have not conceded a goal since a momentary lapse in their first match of the group phase against Japan.
"Sure, Holland are a very good team and have not conceded many goals," Siasia told FIFA.com over a coffee in the lobby of the team hotel in Heerlen, just outside of Kerkrade proper. But my defenders have been playing brilliantly as well. Since losing concentration in our second game (against Korea) we have not conceded a goal either."
The fact that one of Nigeria's wingbacks -Taye Taiwo - scored the only goal in the tense round of sixteen win over Ukraine, led Siasia directly to his next point. "We need to take more of our chances," he said with a rueful shake of the head. "A good striker creates chances, but a perfect striker finishes off those chances. We need our strikers to get a little closer to that kind of production."
"But you always need a little luck, and for a fullback to score the winner in a game as tight as the one against Ukraine is a ray of good fortune," the former Nigeria international shrugged.
Recognising the threats posed by first-round Ukraine sensations Oleksandre Aliiev and Artem Milevskyi, the Nigeria boss was on his feet all-game in Doetinchem's tiny ground making sure his side did not suffer a lapse of concentration similar to the one that saw them drop late goals against Korea Republic. "We knew we would have to neutralise their two best players," he added. "Once we did that it became a lot easier to play against them. I sent two markers to keep an eye on them and they knew their job very well. Once we cut off Aliiev from getting the ball and turning and feeding Milevskyi, they were finished."
It was a similar show of sound tactics and preparation that earned a draw with Brazil and a 3-0 win over outside favourites for the title, Switzerland in the first round.
"We study our opponents closely. First we watch videos of our performances and then we watch our opponents," the coach went on. "We made some mistakes in our early matches, but we pride ourselves on not making the same mistake twice."
With tactics squared away and the coach getting the best from his young charges, he talks of intangibles as possible match-turners. "My boys are hungry and determined," he said. "Some are even playing with small injuries, they have tremendous desire to make something for themselves and all the people back home who are following our every move."
"The game against Holland will be a difficult game for us, but also for them," he added with an ominous grin.
"Once our strikers start to click and begin finishing their chances we are going to be a mean team," he concluded. "This game against Holland is make-or-break and we have no intention of going home after coming this far."