Only eight thousand and eight hundred persons turned up at the Rashid
Stadium in Dubai to watch Nigeria sweep aside Sweden in the FIFA U-17
World Cup semi finals on Tuesday. But the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria
enraptured the whole world.
Even the opposition could not but bow to the audacious skills, high
ball sense, combativeness and seeming invincibility of these boys from West Africa. “We lost to the champions,” Sweden’s Coach, Roland
Larsson, told the media at the end, as his thoroughly-outplayed
charges contemplated a third place duel with Argentina.
Before kick-off, it was hard to imagine a different outcome to this
game. Three-time champions Nigeria looked unstoppable right from Day
One when they dismantled Cup holders Mexico in Al Ain City. Six goals
to one was the scoreline. Since then, the Eaglets only got better, and
their performance against Uruguay in the quarter finals aptly
advertised the carnage that awaited any opposition.
Hours before the game, Sports Minister Bolaji Abdullahi bonded with
the boys and their officials at the majestic Intercontinental Dubai
He told the boys that he would double whatever win-bonus the Nigeria Football Federation was offering for the match against the Scandinavians. Shouts of joy. But he also told them that he wanted them to grow up and be role models for the society, and be worthy ambassadors of Nigeria through disciplined conduct, dedication, humility and restraint.
Minutes later, Abdullahi was telling FIFA.com: “You see, I am happy
that the Nigeria Football Federation bought into the vision of
prioritising legacy over immediate gains. The NFF President and myself agreed on building a team that would be the foundation of the future, and the NFF worked very hard towards in that direction.
“For us, over and above what these boys have achieved and still
capable of achieving at this tournament, we are interested in
developing a set of young men who will be noble people, who will
inspire others through their conduct and absolute professionalism as
well as their engagements, and become good ambassadors of our country
in the near future.”
Like they heard him, the boys played clean, glowing football and shut
the door on Sweden long before the second and third goals. When
Chidera Ezeh netted the third goal with nine minutes left, the Sports
Minister got up from his seat in the VVIP Box and went for a glass of
water! Yes, a ticket into Friday’s final in Abu Dhabi was in the bag!
On the field, Sweden were second best in all sectors, just as the
Nigerians out-sang, out-chanted, out-shouted and out-drummed their
fans in the stands.
While Taiwo Awoniyi, Samuel Okon and Chidera Ezeh got the goals, it
was difficult to single out an Eaglet who played badly. Goalkeeper
Alampasu has improved tremendously, and captain Musa Muhammed, Aliyu
Abubakar, Chidiebere Nwakali, Abdullahi Alfa and Zaharaddeen Bello all glowed. Musa Yahaya pranced all over the turf like it were his estate, and nimble-footed Kelechi Iheanacho pressed the destruction button for the opposition with ease.
Cup holders Mexico may have achieved an identical 3-0 win over
Argentina in Abu Dhabi in the other semi final, but the boys from
central America would be the first to admit, on all evidence, that
they are abject underdogs for Friday’s final.
Nigeria will rule the world, again.