9 November 2013

Nigeria: Golden Eaglets Wins Under-17 World Cup

Nigeria Friday made history in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates as the Golden Eaglets became the most decorated team in the history of the competition after defeating Mexico 3-0 to win the Cup for a record fourth time.

After winning the maiden edition of the competition in 1985 in China, Nigeria went on to win the competition two more times-in Japan in 1993 and in South Korea in 2007.

The final yesterday at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium was a rematch of the group stage meeting between the two teams which Nigeria won 6-1. Again, Nigeria defeated the Mexicans for the second time and the Golden Eaglets lay hands on the U-17 trophy for the fourth time, one better than South American giants, Brazil.

When the final whistle went in the UAE capital, fans and players alike rejoiced, fingers pointed to the sky, with what has become the traditional Nigerian celebration of: "yes, yes yes!"

Mexico, the defending champions kept the ball for a full two minutes at the start of the game, moving it around well and making the Nigerians chase. El Tri even managed the first chance on goal after six minutes.

Osvaldo Rodriguez crossed from the left, but Alejandro Diaz couldn't keep his close-range effort the right side of the post. Two minutes on and Ivan Ochoa - who scored twice in the semifinal win over Argentina - saw his off-balance header pushed over the bar by Dele Alampasu.

The corner came to nothing for the Mexicans, but Nigeria benefited greatly by bursting out on a classic counter-attack. Kelechi Iheanacho went flying up the pitch. With just one Mexican defender in position, the No 10 Golden Eaglet laid the ball in for Taiwo Awoniyi who then fed it on to Musa Yahaha, who had a little help from Erick Aguirre. The Mexican midfielder mistakenly hit the ball into his own net in an attempt to recover.

With the score 1-0, Musa Muhammed was giving the Mexicans fits with his rampaging runs up the right side. He pinned the opponents back at every opportunity. As the first half pushed toward the interval, the Africans upped their tempo in search of a second goal.

Yahaya rattled the crossbar with a stunning effort from 20 yards out after 38 minutes. Pressure was mounting and the fans in the stands were on their feet when Awoniyi's bicycle-kick from the penalty spot forced Raul Gudino into a magnificent save in the dying moments of the half.

The second period began with a frenzy of attacks at both ends of the pitch, but it was Nigeria who made theirs count, making it 2-0 in the 56th minute.

Captain Muhammed unleashed a wicked swirling shot that Mexican keeper Gudino simply couldn't hang on to. He spilled a rebound directly to the feet of the most dangerous man on the pitch, and Iheanacho made no mistake dispatching his sixth goal of the tournament.

With a quarter-hour to go, Mexico managed to carve out a rare second-half chance, but Ochoa's header from close-range slipped wide of the post as the holders began to wilt under the ceaseless pressure of the buzzing Nigerians. Muhammed added a third with ten minutes to go, curling a sublime free-kick into the top corner.

It was not surprising however that Nigeria's Iheanacho was voted the Most Valuable Player of the tournament and also won the Bronze Boot, while the team's safe hand, Dele Alampasu was adjudged the best goalkeeper of the tournament.

In an interview after the game, Golden Eaglets coach, Manu Garba said he was happy that his lads won after a very difficult game.

"I always knew the Mexicans were going to be difficult but I'm happy we carried the day in the end. Though it is not all about winning but rather about football philosophy and I believe most of them will go on to play in the U-20 squad and will form the nucleus of the future Super Eagles," Manu said.

Minutes after Eaglets' victory yesterday, President Goodluck Jonathan sent a congratulatory message to the team, saying, "I join other very proud and happy Nigerians in saluting the glorious achievement of the Eaglets in winning the Under-17 Soccer Championship for an unprecedented fourth time."

Jonathan commended the Eaglets for the exemplary commitment, dedication, resilience, determination, patriotism and unity of purpose displayed through-out the tournament to make Nigeria the World's Under-17 Football Champion once again.

In fulfilment of his promise of a heroes' welcome for the triumphant Golden Eaglets, the president will host a grand reception for the team at the Banquet Hall of the State House at 7 pm on Sunday, November 10, 2013 "in appreciation of the great honour and glory they have brought to their fatherland."

He urged the leadership of the Nigerian Football Federation to strive to ensure that the world-conquering Eaglets, who have shown such immense potentials as youngsters, are properly nurtured, trained and developed to represent the nation at higher levels in future international football competitions.

The President wished the Golden Eaglets and their handlers a safe journey home, saying he is looking forward to receiving them in Abuja on Sunday.

U 17 Past Winners

1985 - Nigeria

1987 - USSR

1989 - S'Arabia

1991 - Ghana

1993 - Nigeria

1995 - Ghana

1997 - Brazil

1999 - Brazil

2001 - France

2003 - France

2005 - Mexico

2007 - Nigeria

2009 - Switzerland

2011 - Mexico

2013 - Nigeria

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