Friday, November 06, 2015
FIFA Under 17 World Cup: Countdown To An African Final
Twenty two years ago, precisely on September 3, 1993, it was an historic final in the FIFA Under 17 World cup hosted by Japan between Nigeria and Ghana.
It was the first time in FIFA history that two teams from the same continent would play each other in the final and it was expected to be fierce one between the Golden Eaglets and the Junior Starlets of Ghana who were the defending champions of the world at the time.
The difference between the two African giants was Nigeria's extra ruthlessness in front of goal. Suffice to say, the Golden Eaglets stood out from start to finish, their outstanding physique, impeccable sense of organisation and progressive tactics combining to make them the most feared team in the tournament.
The icing on the cake was having future stars Wilson Oruma - top scorer in the competition with six goals - ,Nwankwo Kanu (second top scorer with 5 goals), Peter Anosike (who scored an awesome solo goal against the Ghanaians in the 75th minutes of that final), Ibrahim Babangida and Celestine Babayaro.
These guys later became important players for the Super Eagles of Nigeria few years after the competition and were part of the success story of Nigeria's invisibility in the '90s and earlier in the 2000s.
The Fanny Amun tutored side's 8-0 thrashing of poor Canada at the start of the proceedings set the tone; Argentina hardly fared much better, going down 4-0, and then it was the turn of Australia (2-0), Japan (2-1) and Poland (2-1) to suffer at the hands of the all-conquering Nigerians.
Ghana, who impressively won all their matches (as Nigeria did) including a extra time win against Australia, were the last hurdle, and a 2-1 win in the Final was enough to send the Golden Eaglets flying home with the coveted trophy safely in their grasp.
Fast forward, twenty two years later and it is an All- Africa final again between Nigeria, who are defending champions after an impressive win two years back in 2013 and Mali, who are the African champion.
The Golden Eaglets impressively won their semi final match against Mexico - a repeat of the 2013 final in Dubai - by 4 goals to 2 in a match many see as the match of the tournament so far in the FIFA Under 17 World Cup in Chile.
The Emmanuel Amuneke's side booked themselves a place in the final for an astonishing eighth time in 11 attempts.
The Eaglets of Mali or Les Aiglonnets achieved a feat that no other Malian national side at any age category has ever managed: progressing to the showpiece match of a FIFA-run tournament after beating Belgium by 3-1 in an entertaining match
It promises to be a great final and if you ask me what to expect, then it is physical Africa football at its best.
Mali are fast, very fast and all of the sides that have crossed their path over the course of the competition can attest to that fact.
Nigeria are a great side; different from the side that one the competition two years ago in Dubai. They have pacy players,a goal scoring attack, a creative midfield marshaled by captain Kelechi Nwakali , an awesome, howbeit shaky defense and a great goalkeeper.
To crown it all, star player, Victor Osimhen scored his ninth goal of the competition equaling the joint all-time record held by Ivorian Souleymane Coulibaly (Mexico 2011) and Frenchman Florent Sinama Pongolle ( Trinidad and Tobago 2001). Try betting against him breaking that record with more goals in the final if you dare.
So the billion dollar or naira question is this? Will Nigeria repeat the feat they attained 22 years ago by winning the all Africa final or will Mali make history by winning their first FIFA world cup in any level?
On Sunday will tell.
By Cosmos Chukwuemeka (Blogger, Sport Analyst/Presenter)