he A full-back with a peculiar attention to detail, Marseilles man Taye Taiwo has been at the heart of the action, back and front, in Nigeria's magnificent run through to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005.

Before scoring two penalties in the marathon shoot-out against the hosts, including the decisive twelfth, Taiwo grabbed the only goal in a last-sixteen scrap with fancied Ukraine in Doetinchem.

"I was surprised," the player admitted to FIFA.com about his winner against the East Europeans. "I was trying to cross and then I looked up, saw the keeper was on the ground and the ball in the net.  This is proof that God is with us, he is guiding the ball toward the goal and the trophy toward Nigeria."

After his two-time penalty heroics against Holland in front of the capacity hometown crowd in Kerkrade, one might expect the defender to be having delusions of grandeur about his attacking prowess.  Quite the contrary…

Man-marker in the extreme
"I take my job as a defender very seriously," he said.  And it is no lie considering, when his man (Dmytro Vorobei) was substituted near the end in the Ukraine match, Taiwo followed him all the way to the touchline, picked up his replacement and ran with him all the way back across the pitch.

"I stay with my man all the time," he said with a smile.  "If the coach tells me or I recognise his threat, I never let him out of my sight.  I will follow him to the touchline and pick up his substitute so I never lose focus on my job.  If you slip for one second he could be away, and punish you.  My man will never get away from me if I can help it."

With the Nigerian team drawing constant attention at the Van der Valk Hotel in Heerlen, Taiwo - at well over six-feet tall - is probably the most conspicuous and imposing Flying Eagle back at the team's temporary nest in southern Holland's charming Limburg Province. 

But a broad smile and welcoming countenance have brought many admirers, autograph-seekers and photo-hunters to his door.  With Olympique Marseilles since October, the player has had no troubles earning the affections of the not-easily impressed Ultras behind the goal at the Stade Velodrome with a handful of starts for the first team.

"We didn't know what to expect coming into this tournament as a lot of us had not played together in a while," Taiwo explained.  "But we had belief in ourselves, in our coach, in our spirit." 

When asked about whether or not he was nervous before taking the crucial penalty against Holland in front of 20,000 screaming Dutch fans, the player only cracked another wide grin.

"There were people screaming and yelling and it was all orange," he said.  "But I had total confidence.  For me there was no one else there - in my mind it was just me and the keeper."

Familiar opponents
The Nigerians will be familiar enough with their opponent in the semi-final on 28 June. When last they met North African firebrands Morocco in January in the African championship, the Nigerians won the day but only after a tense penalty shootout. 

"Sure, we had trouble with them," he admitted.  "But this is totally different…this is a world championship and we have God on our side. They are a very tough team and I know some of their players very well.  But we will win, I am not sure how, but no matter what, we will win.  God is with us, we have beaten the hosts and we can see the sun."

When asked about the final, the player would not be baited. "We can not look beyond our next opponent, this is wrong. Holland may have been looking past us to the semi-finals and you can see what happened to them. We focus on our opponent, never let them slip away or steal a point. When we win that game, then we think about the next one."

With an eye only on the semi-final with Morocco, his marking assignment, and maybe a goal or two with God's help, all of Nigeria can count on the hard work of determined left back Taye Taiwo.