When Nigerian defender Musa Muhammed is asked which player he views as a role model, he smiles broadly and responds: “Me! I often watch my performances, and I love my style of play.”
The amusing and refreshing reply from the captain of a team vying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup is typical of the Golden Eaglets, who have proved to be as fearsome on the pitch as they are amiable off it.
At the time of his interview with FIFA.com, Muhammed appears completely exhausted after having defended stoutly for 90 minutes against a strong Uruguay side, Nigeria’s latest victims at UAE 2013. “It was a very difficult and demanding match,” he said. “They’re impressive in terms of their style and movement, and they’re also particularly physical when they go in for the ball. But we’re ready to go all the way to the final, and then to bring home the trophy. That’s our goal,” he added confidently.
In Tuesday’s semi-final in Dubai, the Nigerians face Sweden, who they drew 3-3 in the group stage. “We’re going to win,” he promised. “We learned a lot from the mistakes we made against Sweden originally. This time, we’re sure to perform much better.”
Could this outlook be described as overconfidence? Not in Muhammed’s eyes. “We would never underestimate any team. We always respect our opposition,” he stated.
It is sometimes said that scoring as many goals as possible, and therefore not taking one’s foot off the pedal, is a mark of respect. The Africans, who have found the net 20 times – more than any other team – during the tournament, have clearly taken this idea to heart.
With two assists and a goal, the tireless defender has made a significant contribution to Nigeria’s attacking efforts, all the while putting in admirable displays at the back. “I give 100 per cent for my team, because I’m here to defend my country’s honour,” said Muhammed, who has not picked up a single yellow card in 450 minutes of football.
“We’ve got a fantastic squad, in which everyone counts and has a role to play. We’re all given the freedom to express ourselves on the pitch – we attack and score goals as a team, and we defend together as well,” continued the young skipper.
During the aforementioned Group F clash with the Swedes, Muhammed’s performance was not entirely error-free, however, as he was caught out by a cross that led to Valmir Berisha’s second goal. “They threw in a lot of high balls, which caused us real problems,” he recalled.
“I don’t think we got anything wrong in our approach to that first match,” said the self-assured Nigerian. “And so we’re going to prepare in the same way, with the same objectives, but we intend to increase our levels of effort and intensity. I'm hopeful that it’ll have paid off by the final whistle.”
Muhammed concludes with some further thoughts on Tuesday’s opponents: “I’m not surprised to see Sweden come this far. They’re a great team who put up a good fight against us. Since then, they’ve got better and better, but the same could be said of us. It should be a tremendous match.”