Nigeria’s comeback kings out to prove their pedigree
• Will to win is part of country’s DNA
Three minutes into their debut at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup – a competition that they’ve won an unmatched five times – Nigeria conceded. Gyorgy Komaromi tapped in David Laszlo’s soaring cross at the far post, and Hungary were up on the U-17 juggernauts.In the second match it looked as if they had turned the tables. Ibrahim Said capitalised on a goalkeeping error to put the Golden Eaglets ahead five minutes after the opening whistle. That lead lasted 51 minutes of match time, until Johan Mina’s penalty goal put the Nigerians in the hole again.
Two matches, two deficits. They were staring at defeat with less than 15 minutes to go on both occasions. And on each, the Africans produced stirring comebacks.Against Hungary, captain Samson Tijani was the primary difference-maker, netting Nigeria’s first and last goals of a 4-2 victory, the latter coming via free-kick from 30 yards.
“We don’t relent,” Tijani told FIFA.com of his team’s proclivity for late rallies.“We don’t give up easily. We force ourselves to keep pushing until we get the win.”Said embodied the motto in Nigeria’s second win, completing the only hat-trick of Brazil 2019 thus far with a pair of goals in the 85th and 89th minutes. His second was the standout, a curling, dipping golazo from outside the left edge of the box. Final score: Nigeria 3, Ecuador 2.
“In my mind, I kept thinking, ‘We should not be losing’,” said Said of the match against La Tri. “It gave me the fire to score a goal like this, along with the help from my team-mates.”Combining the two wins that ensured their place in the knockout phase, the Golden Eaglets outscored their opponents 5-0 in the final 15 minutes of the match. For Tijani, Said and head coach Manu Garba, when it comes to this competition, Nigeria are special.
“The will to win every game is part of the DNA of every Nigerian team, and my team here in Brazil is no exception,” Garba told FIFA.com before the tournament began.“It gives us more confidence to push harder, knowing what our country has worked for and that they are behind us,” Tijani said. “So we’ll keep pushing.”
The Nigerians have drawn a formidable opponent in the Round of 16 – one that pulled off a different kind of comeback to reach this stage. The Netherlands lost their first two matches in Brazil by a combined score of 6-1. Down but far from out, the European champions pummelled USA 4-0 in their final group fixture to burst through.
The Dutch will be coming off their best performance of the tournament when the two sides meet today. Nigeria, meanwhile, fell 2-1 to Australia in the their Group B closer. The faith of the Golden Eaglets, however, remains unshaken.“I know this team and these players possess the effort to keep fighting back, no matter the situation,” said Tijani.
Both of Nigeria’s last-minute triumphs came at Goiania’s Estadio Olimpico. You can guess the location of their showdown with the Oranje.“We want to bring this World Cup back to Nigeria,” Said said. “I want to make my country proud of the team.”What do Brazil and Nigeria have in common?
They are both record-breaking world champions.While the Seleção are renowned for being the most successful team in FIFA World Cup history with five titles to their name, the African side have collected the same number of trophies at the U-17 level and finished as runners-up in the competition on another three occasions.It is hardly surprising, then, that the Super Eaglets are once again among the favourites to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup that begins on Saturday – in Brazil of all places.
“Everyone should get ready to see a fantastic Nigerian team that play great football and have the trophy in their sights,” coach Manu Garba confidently told FIFA.com. “Ecuador, Hungary and Australia are undoubtedly strong teams that we respect, but we are record-breaking world champions and I was involved in two of our title wins.”Indeed, Garba was head coach when the African side clinched victory in the United Arab Emirates in 2013, and served as Yemi Tella’s assistant six years earlier.
“The will to win every game is part of the DNA of every Nigerian team, and my team here in Brazil is no exception,” he said.One player who embodies this spirit and acts as Garba’s ambassador out on the pitch is captain Samson Tijani.“Our country’s previous success does not place any pressure on our shoulders at all,” Tijani said. “But the world is naturally expecting a great deal from us, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to follow in the footsteps of our predecessors.
“Our coaches have so much experience – not just Garba, but also his assistant Nduka Ugbade, who led Nigeria to the title for the first time as captain in 1985. They know exactly what we need to do to finish the tournament as champions.”The Nigerians finished fourth at the African U-17 Championship behind surging Angola, who beat the favourites 2-1 in the match for third place. But could this be a good omen? The Super Eaglets also finished fourth in their continental competition in 2015 before becoming world champions in Chile just a few months later.
Assistant coach and former Nigeria international Ugbade, who won 11 senior caps and scored one goal for his country, was also part of the team that pulled off the ‘Miracle of Dammam’ at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship. After going 4-0 down to the Soviet Union in the quarter-finals with half an hour left to play, Nigeria came back to equalise before winning on penalties to reach the last four.
• Culled from FIFA.COM
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