Nigeria are through to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup after getting the better of Uruguay in a fine 2-0 victory in the last eight. Among their outstanding performers was goalkeeper Dele Alampasu, who has endeavoured to learn from past mistakes as he continues to make himself at home on the world stage.
There was no mistaking the Golden Eaglets' dressing room in the bowels of Sharjah Stadium on Saturday, the African hopefuls united in expressing their euphoria following another impressive demonstration of force. Laughter and cries of joy escaped from inside as their imposing No1, standing nearly two metres tall, exited to share his thoughts with FIFA.com.
"They're the toughest team we've faced so far," said Alampasu, fresh from playing his part in eliminating La Celeste. "They're good tactically and very disciplined. They switch well between long balls and short passes, and we had to be very focused." The South American side certainly tried everything to find a weakness in their rivals' rearguard, only to come up short, and several Uruguay players shed tears of anguish when they conceded the second goal ten minutes from time.
Leader at the back
Nigeria's leader at the back was all smiles, in contrast, having silenced the likes of Leandro Otormin, Francis D'Albenas and Franco Pizzichillo. "I had my eye on those three in particular," he said. "I forbade my team-mates from letting them shoot. I kept telling them to stay on top of them and block their efforts. I shouted at my defenders a lot to adjust their positioning and marking."
The custodian had to do more than simply use his voice, however, notably producing an excellent double save in the first half before killing off any suspense with a solid showing at the end. "It's my job to save my team, to save my country," he said. "We're all fighting to be the best we possibly can and do something big in this tournament."
Having helped themselves to 20 goals thus far, Nigeria are the most prolific team in the competition, but that has by no means made life easy for Alampasu. While his outfield colleagues have proved adept at limiting danger, the 16-year-old has had to remain switched on at all moments. "That means you have to be focused all the time," he explained. "You need to make the right choices at the right moments, and you never know when something might happen. You have to always be ready if you don't want to make a mistake."
When it comes to mistakes, Alampasu speaks from experience. He has conceded just five goals since the tournament kicked off, but three of those came in Nigeria's second Group F outing against Sweden. "I wasn't myself," he said. "I messed up coming off my line for the first goal and that weighed on me afterwards. I was a bit lost after the first goal. Before I could get myself back in the game, I was called on again and everything went wrong."
Despite his disappointment, Alampasu knows that even the best goalkeepers can experience nightmare encounters – including the likes of Petr Cech and Manuel Neuer, his heroes. "I watch them every time they play and I learn a huge amount," he said. And like his Chelsea and Bayern Munich counterparts, who have both bounced back impressively from errors in the past, Alampasu quickly underlined his quality in the following match. "I got over it against Iraq," he smiled, recalling his team's 5-0 success.
As fate would have it, Nigeria will be reunited with Sweden in the semi-finals in Dubai on Tuesday, when Alampasu will have another chance to prove that he has recovered from their first meeting. "I won't make the same mistakes against Sweden; I've learned my lesson," he insisted. "This is my first international experience and I've drawn a lot of information from that game, especially in terms of the level of concentration you need to have at this level."
I won't make the same mistakes against Sweden; I've learned my lesson