THE DAY REPLAYED – The concluding day of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 saw Nigeria live up to their tag of pre-tournament favourites by overcoming a spirited Mali side 2-0 in the final, thereby retaining the crown they secured so impressively two years ago in the United Arab Emirates. Belgium had earlier finished third, after seeing off Mexico in a pulsating opening game.
The showpiece match played out in the way many observers had predicted, partly because of the level of familiarity between the two teams, who both played starring roles at the 2015 CAF African U-17 Championship, where the Nigerians finished fourth and the Malians emerged victorious.
In Vina del Mar on Sunday, however, the Golden Eaglets’ attacking prowess eventually made the difference, as two goals in three second-half minutes sealed the destination of the trophy.
In doing so, the Nigerians claimed the fifth U-17 World Cup crown, following on from their previous successes at China 1985, Japan 1993, Korea Republic 2007 and UAE 2013. In addition, they finished as runners-up at Canada 1987, Trinidad and Tobago 2001 and Nigeria 2009.
Belgium, meanwhile, earned a place on the podium by defeating Mexico 3-2 in an entertaining preamble to the main event. Sprightly forward Dante Vanzeir was the man who propelled Les Diables Rouges to a best-ever finish at a FIFA tournament, setting up the opener and scoring their second and third goals. That decisive third strike came in stoppage time, when Belgium were down to ten men and the match appeared on the verge of a penalty shoot-out.
Mali 0-2 Nigeria
Play-off for third place
Belgium 3-2 Mexico
Goal of the day
Mali 0-1 Nigeria, Victor Osimhen (56)
With the score locked at 0-0, midfielder Chinedu Madueke - who walked away with the adidas Bronze Boot - drove down the right and from just inside the box sent in a low cross for forward Victor Osimhen, who was lurking unmarked in the middle. The Nigerian No9, as he has done throughout the competition, did not hesitate for a second and smashed the ball first-time past adidas Golden Glove winner Samuel Diarra to set Nigeria on their way to glory.
Although they retained the U-17 World Cup as a team, Nigeria were also well represented among the individual awards. Their captain, Kelechi Nwakali, picked up the adidas Golden Ball, while ace marksman Victor Osimhen pocketed the adidas Golden Boot and adidas Silver Ball.
Mali’s impressive crop of players achieved much more than a historic runners-up spot at a FIFA event. Not only did they receive the acclaim of the Chilean fans, who supported them during the match and gave them a standing ovation after the final whistle, but their efforts were also recognised by the Nigerian players, who formed a guard of honour when their defeated opponents went up to collect their runners-up medals. In addition, Samuel Diarra won the adidas Golden Glove award and attacker Aly Malle earned the adidas Bronze Ball.
Dante Vanzeir missed out on the UEFA European U-17 Championship with a serious knee injury, and had not managed to notch a goal at Chile 2015 until today. The skilful forward put all that behind him in style against Mexico, producing an excellent assist and two fine goals that ensured Belgium of third place in a FIFA tournament for the first time. Cue exuberant celebrations from the Belgian players, which involved launching coach Bob Browaeys skywards.
Song of sorrow
During the first half of the play-off for third place, around 100 Mexican supporters, situated behind the goal that El Tri were attacking, delighted the rest of the fans present at the Estadio Sausalito with an a cappella version of the popular Mexican song, Cielito lindo. The applause the boisterous group received was highly deserved, as were the proud cheers they themselves gave their young heroes at the end of the match, despite the loss to Belgium.
10 – The number of goals scored by Victor Osimhen for the Golden Eaglets at Chile 2015, a tournament tally that sends the talented Nigerian to the top of the all-time top scorer list. The lethal striker, who found the net in all seven of his nation’s encounters in South America, now moves one ahead of the previous record of 9, jointly held by Ivoirian Souleymane Coulibaly (2011) and Frenchman Florent Sinama Pongolle (2001)
“We have worked very hard for this success and we hope to continue. The players will go home now but their journey is not over yet. I have football in my blood, as a player and as a coach. This is what I want to pass to my players.”
Emmanuel Amuneke, Nigeria coach