There was a touching moment after the FIFA U-17 World Cup final as the winning captain Kelechi Nwakali left the pitch. A screaming fan caught the eye of the Nigeria skipper from the stands directly next to the tunnel. Looking up to the youngster, the No10, fresh from claiming the adidas Golden Ball as the most outstanding player at Chile 2015 as well as lifting the trophy itself, waved. It was clear there was one thing the young Chilean wanted. Without hesitation Nwakali rolled the armband down his arm and threw it towards the fan. It was caught by another supporter and passed to him. The scream of delight from the youngster put a huge grin on all those who witnessed the act of kindness.
It was a small episode on a heady night for the humble captain, and displayed a softer side to the character of the ASJ Academy midfielder who had otherwise been a brutal enforcer and instigator of attacks throughout the tournament. He shone so brightly with his performances, as well as his three goals and three assists that he ended up with the award for best player of the tournament.
“I thank God for the opportunity to win this award,” Nwakali said exclusively to FIFA.com after the final. “It means so much.”
The midfielder was quick to place the effort of his team-mates at the forefront of the conversation, making sure to praise their hard work and diligence throughout their time in Chile.
“Right from the game against the USA, when we arrived in Chile, our aim was to defend the trophy,” Nwakali said. “We believed the only way we could do this was hard work. We approached each game with hard work and seriousness. Any team that came to Chile worked for it.”
To play in a World Cup final and win the trophy is amazing. Not just winning it, but defending it.
That ethos saw Nigeria motor to the final, topping their group and flying past Australia and Brazil in the Round of 16 and quarter-final respectively before a titanic clash against Mexico.
“They are a strong side,” Nwakali said of El Tri. “We believed that when it came to U-17 level, they have been there and done it already. Even though we came from behind, we knew we had to work hard, that is our philosophy.”
Those continuing references to diligence and industry were selected carefully by Nwakali, aware as the mouthpiece of the team that he needed to set an example. Leading by example on the pitch in that rematch of the 2013 U-17 World Cup finale with a stunning goal from a free-kick, he helped set up an all-African final, for only the second time in the tournament’s history. That armband was tight on Nwakali’s arm as he led his side out in Vina Del Mar.
“Playing in the final is the dream of every young player,” the beaming No10 said. “To play in a World Cup final and win the trophy is amazing. Not just winning it, but defending it.”
Every young player certainly does dream of reaching a global final, and lifting the trophy as captain. Somewhere in Vina Del Mar, a young boy is probably still clutching that sacred piece of yellow piece of cloth tossed to him by a World Cup-winning captain, and dreaming of emulating Nwakali one day.