Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets, who are five-time FIFA U-17 World Cup winners, have struggled to dominate Africa, having won the African title two times since the birth of the tournament in 1995.
This year’s African championship in Tanzania will be Nigeria’s ninth, and the Golden Eaglets, winners in 2001 and 2007, will hope to better their record on the continent.
Nigeria have finished as runners-up twice, with the last being at the 2013 finals held in Morocco, where current coach, Manu Garba, blooded the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho and Isaac Success.
Garba has been part of the Nigeria U-17 set up since the early 2000s and was an assistant to the late coach Yemi Tella when the Golden Eaglets conquered Africa and the world in 2007.
“Every tournament is hard to win,” the 55-year-old Garba, who guided Nigeria to World Cup glory in 2013, told CAFOnline.com
“No matter how good a team is, sometimes you need elements of luck to win the trophy.”
By and by, the Eaglets have in the past failed five times to qualify for the U-17 AFCON and were eliminated three times at the group stages in their previous eight appearances.
But Garba’s right-hand, Nduka Ugbade, who incidentally captained the Eaglets to win the maiden FIFA U-16 World Cup in 1985, is upbeat about the potentialities of the current lads, adding that Nigeria remains the team to beat in Tanzania.
“The truth is that the U-17 AFCON is very competitive because of the amount of effort that is concentrated upon it by most countries,” Ugbade, who was also an assistant to Garba when Nigeria won the U-20 AFCON four years ago in Senegal, told CAFOnline.com.
“Teams from Africa can compete favourably well at the FIFA World Cup because the intensity of the game at this level on the continent is very high and that is why the Nigerian team over the years is difficult to beat, due to strength, skills and mental speed.”
The present lads showed their readiness for the 2019 AFCON at the recently held UEFA-organised U-17 Turkey Invitational Tournament where despite losing 2-0 in their opener against Senegal. They beat Montenegro (4-2) and their Group A rivals in Tanzania, Angola (3-1).
“There won’t be any margin for errors for us in Tanzania because we will have the best teams from all the regions of Africa,” noted Ugbade.
“Our objective first and foremost would be the qualification for the World Cup by reaching the semi-finals and, thereafter, we can focus our attention on winning the trophy for the third time for Nigeria.”