Golden Eaglets… Waiting For Miracle Outside Asia

Coach Emmanuel Amuneke giving the Golden Eaglets pep talk at Niger 2015 CAF U-17 Championship.

Coach Emmanuel Amuneke giving the Golden Eaglets pep talk at Niger 2015 CAF U-17 Championship.

On four occasions, Nigeria’s U-17 national team, the Golden Eaglets, showed the world that when it came to youth football, they are a force to reckon with. This they did by winning the FIFA cadet trophy at different times. But all the country’s victory in the competition has been achieved on Asian soil.

Nigeria won the maiden edition in China ‘85, re-enacted the feat at Japan ‘93, won again in Korea in 2007 before the feat in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) two years ago.

Now, attention will shift to a South American country, Chile, beginning from October 17, as the Golden Eaglets and their counterparts from 23 other nations converge for the 2015 edition.

The draws for the cadet championship took place yesterday in Santiago, Chile, and the Coach Emmanuel Amuneke-led Eaglets will be bidding for a record-extending fifth title, with a battle against the host country, Chile, Croatia and USA.

The Nigerians will begin their title defence in Group A in the nation’s capital city, Santiago.

The Golden Eaglets finished fourth at the 11th CAF U-17 Championships in Niger Republic earlier this year, and as such, the dream to conquer South America this October requires significant improvement on their part.

In the draw ceremony yesterday, Group B could nonetheless produce the dark horses of the tournament, as England, Guinea, Brazil and Korea Republic look to stake their claims to the U-17 title.

Group D offers class in European and South American giants, Germany and Argentina, as well as Australia and 2011 winners, Mexico.

Reigning African champions in the age group, Mali, are drawn against Belgium, Honduras and Ecuador in Group D, while debutantes, South Africa face Costa Rica, Korea DPR and Russia in Group E. Group F has New Zealand, France, Syria and Paraguay.

The Golden Eaglets under the watch of Emmanuel Amuneke, 1994 African Footballer of the Year, were tipped as favourite at the 11th African Championship earlier this year in Niger. But the team failed to clinch even the bronze medal, after they were beaten 3-1 by Guinea.

Notwithstanding, Coach Amuneke believes his team can successfully defend its world title in Chile.

Situated south of Peru and west of Bolivia and Argentina, Chile will provide the Golden Eaglets another opportunity to aim at the title, having failed in all past attempts outside Asia.

Nigeria won the inaugural edition of the championship at China ’85, defeating Germany in the final, and at Japan ’93, Coach Fanny Amun’s Eaglets ran riot against all opposing teams to win their second title.

The late Coach Yemi Tella led the Golden Eaglets to another successful outing at Korea 2007 before Coach Manu Garba moment two years ago in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Prior to UAE 2013, Brazil and Nigeria found themselves among the favourites, mainly due to their three previous successes at junior level.

Mexico was hoping to defend their 2011 title, and thus become the first team to win back-to-back tournaments since Brazil in 1999.

The South Americans and Africans advanced in impressive fashion from Groups A and F respectively, enthralling the watching fans with several spectacular goals on the final match, which the Golden Eaglets won 3-0.

The Golden Eaglets became the only country to win the tournament four times, surpassing the achievements of Brazil, crowned champions on three occasions.

The Eaglets put in remarkable performances from start to finish at UAE 2013, remaining unbeaten throughout the event.

Before then, the Golden Eaglets conceded the least number of goals at Scotland ’89, where they also kept a clean slate. Unfortunately, the Coach Sebastian Broderick-led team did not make the impressive record count, as they failed to get past the quarterfinals, losing to eventual winners, Saudi Arabia on penalties.

Nigeria hosted the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup, but the Golden Eaglets finished second, no thanks to their defeat in the hands of the Swiss team at the Abuja National Stadium. Nigeria became the second African country to host the tourney after Egypt staged it in 1997.

The Golden Eaglets have failed to make it to the world stage on four occasion, including their first black-out at Italy ’91, followed by their absence in Egypt ‘97 before missing out of the 1999 and 2005 editions hosted by New Zealand and Peru respectively.

The Korea 2007 edition remains memorable for one Nigerian player, Chrisantus Macaulay, who netted seven goals, the best highest number of goals scored by a Nigerian in a single tournament. This achievement got him the golden boot award of the tournament.

Before then at Finland 2003, the Golden Eaglets recorded their least number of goals with three strikes from three games.

Nigeria remains the highest scoring side in history of the FIFA World U-17 Championships, as available records show that the Golden Eaglets have scored a total of 100 goals since the inaugural edition in China ’85. Nigeria has conceded 33 goals in the same number of outings.

With their Group opponents emerging in yesterday’s draw in Santiago, all focus is now on Coach Amuneke and his young lads to get the job done when hostilities begin on October 17 in Chile, at least, to wipe away the agony, which followed the Flying Eagles’ failure in New Zealand and the Super Falcons in Canada.

Group A (Santiago, Vina del Mar, Coquimbo): Chile, Croatia, Nigeria, USA

Group B (La Serena, Coquimbo, Vina del Mar): England, Guinea, Brazil, Korea Republic

Group C (Chillan, Talca): Australia, Germany, Mexico, Argentina

Group D (Talca, Chillan): Belgium, Mali, Honduras, Ecuador

Group E (Concepcion, Puerto Montt): South Africa, Costa Rica, Korea DPR, Russia

Group F (Puerto Montt, Concepcion): New Zealand, France, Syria, Paraguay

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