The feeling among many a football fan is not one of overwhelming confidence as the Flying Eagles gear up for the challenge of the U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
The team managed to salvage a bronze medal at the African Youth Championship earlier in the year as they surrendered the title they won two years before in South Africa. Even more unconvincing was the team’s outing at the Toulon Tournament which served as a precursor to the world championship. Nigeria only managed two draws and two losses.
What got Nigerians alarmed was the decision by Coach John Obuh to drop several of his key players for the Toulon engagement. Traditional wisdom suggests that you take your best players to a competition that immediately precedes a major championship so as to further build understanding and cohesion.
But Obuh chose to drop skipper Abduljaleel Ajagun, striker, Umar Aminu, goalkeeper Jonah Usman, as well as Chidi Osuchukwu, Chizoba Amaefule, Agboyi Ovbokha and Olanrewaju Kayode.
Hear Obuh’s justification: “We conducted a training camp in Germany with 30 players and then I took 23 of them to the Toulon tournament, where several of the other teams that will compete in Turkey were also playing. The seven players that I left behind were those who were already in my plans. I wanted to give the other players a chance to show me what they can do.”
What not only baffles but rankles is the fact that he later dropped several of the boys he took for the Toulon Tournament from the Turkey party and you wonder what that experiment was about.
Such shenanigans only give ammunition to people who argue that these coaches accept gratification from players or their agents just so that they (players) can don the green and white in a tournament, something which the agents later use as bargaining chip to secure clubs for their wards.
In all this it is the nation that suffers, but the coaches have a riposte. Some of them have argued unabashedly that they need to take care of themselves while they can as they are owed several months salaries and are left to their own devices when it is all over.
No matter. The Flying Eagles are already in Turkey where they take on Portugal in their first match on Friday. Their other Group B opponents are debutants Cuba and South Korea.
The opening match against Portugal will doubtless be crucial in Obuh’s quest to advance from the group. The Portuguese area strong force at this level of competition and the Flying Eagles have come unstuck against the Iberian powerhouse house in the past.
Would it be different this time? Can Nigeria go all the way in the World Youth Championship given their not too inspiring performances at the AYC in Algeria and the Toulon Tournament?
A Former Flying Eagles and Super Eagles midfielder Thompson Oliha believes that Flying Eagles have all to play for.
“I think the team will do well. Yes they may not have done too well in the last tournament, but this is a different setting,” notes the former Eagles star.
“Again, the coaches would have learnt their lessons and know which areas to make corrections. This also applies to the players and I will enjoin them to put in more effort as they are the main actors on the field.”
Oliha who played in Turkey reveals that the players will meet a warm and cordial atmosphere.
“They (Turkey) like blacks. Our boys will feel at home and that kind of environment will be crucial in their campaign. I just wish them well,” says Oliha.
Former U-17 coach Henry Nwosu also speaks in the same vein.
“My expectation is that the team improves on their previous outing in Colombia where they were knocked out in the quarter finals by France” declares the retired Eagles midfielder.
“I wasn’t very impressed with their performance in the Toulon Tournament, but this is another opportunity to show what they are made of and I know Coach Obuh will want to go one better.”
Nwosu however, harps on the importance of discipline in the team.
“Discipline is crucial in championships like this. If they can maintain that it will really help them and the sky will be their limit,” notes Nwosu.