Since the inception of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, it was only the last edition in Mexico that Nigeria's Golden Eaglets did not attend. The country's cadet team under Coach Monday Odigie failed to qualify after losing home and away to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The dismal performance cost the coach and his assistants their job.
Nigeria's Golden Eaglets is the most successful in the championship with six appearances in the finals, winning three times and emerging runners up three times. The next nation to Nigeria is Brazil with three titles and two runners up positions.
Apart from China 19985, Nigeria was champion in 1993 in Japan and 2007 in Korea Republic. The country emerged runner up at Canada 1987, Trindad and Tobago 2001 and in 2009 when the country hosted the championship.
Going by the impressive record of the national U-17 team in the youth championship, it was a huge disappointment for football lovers in the country when the Odigie led team could not qualify for the 2011 edition. It was expected that having worked with John Obuh who took the team to the finals in 2009 on home soil, he would be able to build on that experience to raise a formidable team but that was not to be.
Consequently, Coach Manu Garba who was part of the victorious 2007 Golden Eaglets of late Yemi Tella was quickly appointed to build a crack U-17 team. After initial challenges which bothered on the age of players invited to camp and whether or not to invite foreign based players, Garba and his assistants, Emmanuel Amunike and Nduka Ugbade, all former internationals settled down to work.
After intensive screening and training, the team began to play some tune-up matches which culminated into the international friendly matches against the Junior Wasps of Rwanda which the team won convincingly at the U.J Esuene stadium Calabar.
Buoyed by the results of the friendly matches against Rwanda, the team travelled to Niger Republic for the first leg of the 2013 Africa U-17 Championship and recorded a resounding victory. Eaglets defeated their hosts the Junior Menas of Niger 4-1 in Niamey.
Since the team's return to its camp in Calabar, the players and their coaches have been exhilarating, such that their Princeville hotel camp in parliamentary village Calabar has become beehive of activities.
When Shot! visited the camp, the players were seen in their relaxed mood just as some of the team's officials bubbled with enthusiasm.
Apart from having technical edge over their rivals, the Junior Menas, who are coming for the return leg today in Calabar, the Nigerian camp is alive because of the immense support coming from some governors in the South-South part of the country.
Governor Liyel Imoke who has been their host for several months now may not have doled out huge sums of money as his financial support but he has given them sufficient moral and political support.
The Head coach of the team, Manu Garba (MFR) has confirmed that Imoke has visited the team through his amiable sports commissioner, Patrick Ugbe to bolster the spirit of the team ahead of today's match.
The coach is confident about the chances of his team repeating the feat it achieved in Niamey.
He said the players are undergoing serious training sessions and are in a better frame of mind saying Canaan city has provided his team appropriate environment for enough concentration.
Not willing to rest on their oars, the coach also down played the team's convincing first leg 4-1 win over Niger saying football is not mathematics hence all hands must be on deck for the second leg match.
"We are not celebrating anything yet because we have not won anything actually. We have not qualified for the second stage of the competition. After the second leg game, if the result favours us, we can begin to talk about our next opponent. Our focus now is the second leg game.
"Though we are not under-rating them or any other team but our boys are ready to perform even better this time around", he said.
Meanwhile, the U-17 players who want to be called the 'New Nigerian Golden Eaglets' seem to be determined to write their names in gold in the history of Nigerian football.
Their performances during their practice sessions with amateur and other academicals in Calabar as well as the international matches played so far have proven that they can hold their own against any African team of their grade.
Wilfred Ndidi, the Vice-Captain and towering defender said, "We have been training for months now and we are determined to write ourselves into the history books.
"People in Calabar that have seen us play call us New Nigeria Golden Eaglets and we like it. We have adopted the name too and we call ourselves the New Nigeria Golden Eaglets because this is a team with a different attitude and orientation."
Meanwhile, the duo of Alhassan Ibrahim and Kelechi Iheanacho who have been consistent scorers in most of their matches, said they are ready to show case their talents against the Junior Menas, as they expressed hope that the outcome would again be something that would gladden the hearts of Nigerians.
Ibrahim said: "It is true that I have scored some goals for the team but they are not my most important goals".
Iheanacho has promised to further the cause of the team. The former U-15 striker's appetite for scoring goals is second to none in the team.
"It is a privilege to be here to play for the National Under-17 team and since I'm here, I'll do my best. I'm ready to work hard for the team and I'm confident that I would be among the goal scorers for the team, come September 22 (today).