This Day (Lagos)

19 October 2013

Nigeria Set for History With Mexico Opener

U-17 World Cup... U-17 World Cup... U-17 World Cup...

Nigeria's performance at under-age competitions is unprecedented, and therefore fans back home will be looking unto the Golden Eaglets as they start their 2013 U-17 FIFA World Cup against defending champion, Mexico. KUNLE ADEWALE writes that a victory for the Eaglets in this year's edition will make them the all-time winner of the competition

The golden Eaglets of Nigeria will today at the Al Ain City Stadium take on Mexico in the first Group F game of the 2013 U-17 World Cup.

As the three times winner of the competition are set for an all-time winners list. Nigeria, having won the tournament thrice in 1985, 1993 and 2007 and finished runners-up three times -1987, 2001, 2009, will be the all-time winner of the competition should Garba Manu-led team emerge winner in United Arab Emirate. The Eaglets departed on Tuesday from their pre-World Cup training camp in Dubai for the FIFA designated Five Star Danat Al-Ain Resort in the City of Al-Ain amidst a rousing welcome by the Nigeria Embassy in Abu Dhabi. "We are leaving no stone un-turned in order to make you comfortable throughout your stay," said the Minister of Protocol and Economic Matters, Edward Kogbara, at the Nigerian Embassy.

The team will not be short of adequate supporter as they have been assured of massive Nigerian presence at their matches as the Ambassador to the UAE, Ibrahim Auwualu pledged to mobilise Nigerians to support the team's quest to wrest the FIFA U-17 trophy for a record fourth time.

This much was disclosed by Mr. Paul Onwuemene, the protocol officer at the Nigeria Embassy in Abu Dhabi even as he said that arrangements were being made by Nigeria "Nigeria is a leader at this level and we'll leave nothing to chance to ensure that the team gets enough support on and off the pitch," the Ambassador assured.

The Embassy has acquired the green and white national team jerseys for Nigerians living in the UAE in order to complement the expected travelling party of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club to the World Cup. "We are going to provide a carnival atmosphere at the stadium for the Golden Eaglets throughout their stay in the UAE because we are mobilising Nigerians to be at the stadium," explained Onwuemene.

Meanwhile, coach Garba had said that his wards were ready to prosecute their World Cup duty with gusto. "If they ask us to start today, we are ready. We have trained very well though we couldn't play any big match. It would not hamper us as our players are fit for this assignment and by the grace of God, we would do our best," Manu said.

For former international and Manu's assistant, Emmanuel Amumeke, he said the team was built round good players with the aim of doing the country proud in UAE. "All the teams are in the competition with the aim of winning the trophy and it is with this mentality we have come into the competition and not to make up the numbers," Amunike said.

This year's edition will be the 10th time that the Golden Eaglet's have appeared on the global stage. The only time that they failed to advance from the group phase was in 2003, when they finished with the same points and goal difference as Costa Rica, but lost out on a place in the knock-out phase after the drawing of lots.

As three-time champions, expectations are high in Nigeria and losing the final at the CAF U-17 Championships in Morocco earlier this year came as a huge disappointment, even if the defeat was in a penalty shoot-out. Unlike many of the other countries playing at the competition, Garba picked a squad of entirely home-based players.

The Eaglets scored an astonishing 18 goals in their five matches in Morocco, with Success Isaac netting seven of those and Kelechi Iheanacho getting two less. The two strikers, who play for Megapp Academy in Benin City and Taye Academy in Owerri respectively, are hoping to take their Moroccan form with them to the UAE. Garba has however said that the team would benefit from the experience gained in Morocco. "We now look forward to the World Cup where the stakes are higher."

Only Brazil and Nigeria have lifted the FIFA U-17 World Cup trophy on more occasions than Mexico. Their debut triumph came via a 3-0 victory by Mexico's Golden Generation over A Verde e Amarelo in the final of Peru 2005, and the second came just six years later at the 2011 edition on home soil. Roared on by some 90,000 fans in the history-laden Estadio Azteca, El Tri defeated Uruguay in the final to reclaim the coveted crown.

The reigning world and CONCACAF champions underlined their credentials by winning all five of their games at the regional qualifying tournament for UAE 2013.

The Golden Eaglets would play Mexico and Sweden on October 19 and 22 respectively at Al-Ain before their last game against Iraq in Dubai on October 25.

Team List

Goalkeepers 1 Dele Alampasu 16 Abdulazeez Abubakar 21 Francis Uzoho

Defenders 2 Musa Muhammed 3 Samuel Okon 5 Denis Nya 6 Aliyu Abubakar 14 Chidiebere Nwakali 15 Raymond Japhet 19 Zaharaddeen Bello

Midfielders 4 Akinjide Idowu 7 Habib Makanjuola 8 Abdullahi Alfa 11 Musa Yahaya 12 Chigozi Obasi 13 Saviour Godwin 20 A Baba Salihu

Forwards 9 Success Isaac 10 Kelechi Iheanacho 17 Chidera Ezeh 18 Taiwo Awoniyi

Coach Garba Manu

The U-17 World Cup in numbers

Football fanatics across the globe can expect thrills and frills aplenty in the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup, with dozens of goals, hundreds of piercing dribbles and committed tackles, thousands of spectators and millions of fans all playing their part in the action. FIFA.com looks over a few interesting facts and figures of the competition

1 million-plus fans turned up two years ago in Mexico as the host nation hoisted their second U-17 title. The final at the Estadio Azteca, venue of two senior World Cup finals and some of international football's most iconic moments, drew no fewer than 98,943 fans.

1536 goals have hit the back of the net at the 14 previous U-17 World Cups. The last one was scored by Mexico's Giovani Casillas in the dying moments of the 2-0 final win over Uruguay. It was a goal that launched more than a few cups of beer into the humid Mexico City air. 40 is the number of games Brazil have won in 13 FIFA U-17 World Cup tournaments, a record among all nations. It's no wonder then that the South American giants have won three titles and previously reached the final on three consecutive occasions (1995, 1997 and 1999)

24 goals were scored by third-place finishers Germany at Mexico 2011, with seven different players getting in on the action. No team has ever scored more times at a single tournament than that particular crop of Germans, who averaged a staggering 3.4 goals per game.

16 was the age (barely) of current Croatia sensation Alen Halilovic when he put pen to paper on a professional contract with Dinamo Zagreb. He went on to become the youngest-ever player to appear, and score, in a Croatian top flight game. He's also the youngest player to represent Croatia's senior national team. Understandably, the rest of the teams in Fujairah will want to keep an eye on this star-in-the-making. 14 players in Morocco's 23-man squad ply their club trade abroad, the most of any of the 24 competing nations at UAE 2013.

13 is the supposedly unlucky number that haunts Canada. It stands as the longest streak of consecutive losses in tournament history. Coach Sean Fleming - back for his second U-17 finals as Canuck coach - hopes the unwanted run will end here in UAE. The North Americans earned their first draws two years ago in Mexico against Rwanda and an England side boasting Liverpool starlet Raheem Sterling, but a first win still eludes.

5 teams will make their U-17 World Cup debuts at UAE 2013: Iraq, Morocco, Slovakia, Sweden and Venezuela. Only the Soviet Union (1987) and Switzerland (2009) have won the tournament when playing in it for the first time.

4 will be the number of times an Asian nation hosts the FIFA U-17 World Cup once hostilities commence in UAE. The first edition of the junior showpiece took place in China in 1985, then it went to her neighbours Japan in 1993. Korea Republic hosted in 2007. Asia's four stints as host are a record among the continents, with Europe and CONCACAF both having had the honour on three occasions.

1 set of twins will line up at the 2013 U-17 World Cup. Swedish sibling duo Sebastian and Johan Ramhorn both play in defence for the Scandinavian first-timers. But Panama also have a twin on their bench in Jorge Dely Valdes, whose doppelganger Julio coaches the senior Canaleros. When the two were team-mates with the national team they famously played regular tricks on their team-mates, who were none the wiser.

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