With a golden opportunity to become the first African nation ever to win a FIFA World Youth Championship, Nigeria - whose rearguard in the Netherlands has been nothing short of spectacular - will need to keep it up at the back ahead of a final date with Argentina and competition sensation Lionel Messi.

Since a monumental lapse in concentration saw them drop two late goals and lose out to Korea Republic in their second Group F game, Nigeria - usually known for their flair and attacking prowess - have conceded only one goal in their last four outings. 

Left back Taye Taiwo has been corralling the best of the best at these finals with seeming ease.  And with the winner against Ukraine in the round of sixteen and a cracker to open the rout of Morocco in the semi-finals, the Marseilles man has been getting the job done on both sides of the pitch. 

"I love to get forward into the attack," the player, tied with Chinedu Ogbuke for team top scorer honours, told FIFA.com before the all-African semi-final in Kerkrade.  "But as soon as I take my shot, I race back as quickly as possible to keep an eye on my man."

In the final, the towering back is bound to cross paths with prodigy Lionel Messi. But having already had a big hand in neutralising Holland's Ryan Babel and Quincy Owusu Abeyie, Ukrainian hotshot Oleksandr Aliiev, Swiss senior international Johan Vonlanthan and Morocco's standout Mouhssine Iajour, Taiwo isn't exactly shaking in his boots.

"Messi is a good player and Argentina are a strong team, but we've been playing strong teams the whole tournament and we'll find a way to break him down like we broke all the rest down," concluded the ever-smiling fullback.

Mikel, the man in the middle
Keen to refer to himself as a playmaker, John Obi Mikel - recently snapped up from his Norwegian club by none other than giants Manchester United - is a massive presence in both attack and defence for the Flying Eagles. 

Only rarely does he barrel forward on the team's trademark forays forward, but his presence in the middle of the pitch is invaluable to Samson Siasia's side's success.  With many pundits and fans expecting the 2 July final in Utrecht to be a titanic clash of Mikel v. four-goal phenom Messi, John Obi fails to see it that way.

"I don't see it as an individual duel between the two of us," he told FIFA.com. "We just have to see how the game develops and take them on like we took on all the rest…as a team. Our coach will tell us what to do before the match. We will take that advice and use our brains and find a way to crack them."

With an impressive defensive record of only three goals allowed in six matches at the competition, the Nigerians have not exactly been toothless in attack either.  Nine goals in six matches is an impressive enough haul - especially with three in an over-tough semi-final against Morocco to whet their appetites ahead of the grand-finale.  Even still, the demanding Siasia is desperate for some more consistent output from his strikers. 

Captain Promise Isaac, headed to Auxerre next season after a two-year trial at Manchester United, has not scored since a scintillating performance against the Swiss in Nigeria's final group game.  Rumoured to be playing on with a damaged ankle, the hitman is a constant threat up front and can come good - with devastating effect - at any time. 

"It is only a matter of time before our strikers' start to catch up with our backs and midfield in terms of production," said Siasia who referred to reaching the final as a "dream." "But Promise and the rest are playing brilliantly and creating chances, and it doesn't matter where the goals come from just as long as they come."

If Isaac and the rest of Nigeria's strikeforce can match the promise of a highly motivated backline and midfield, 2 July could well be a banner day in the history of African football.  90 minutes away from glory, all of Nigeria will be watching.