One of the topical issues in Nigerian football at the moment is the disappointing performance of the Golden Eaglets at the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Championship in Brazil.
The team nicked named ‘Super Eaglets’ by FIFA after two exhilarating victories over Hungary and Ecuador failed to live up to that name as they were sent packing from the competition by less fancied the Netherlands in the Round of 16.
Although this is not Nigeria’s worst outing in the competition as they had failed at the group stage in 2003, the team disappointed many Nigerians who hoped the Eaglets of 2019 would replicate the success stories of their predecessors.
However, for many Nigerians, it takes the morning to know the day so the unimpressive performance of the Golden Eaglets in Brazil didn’t come to them as a surprise because they had failed to fly at the AFCON U-17 championship in Tanzania.
It will be recalled that the team coached by Manu Garba struggled to qualify for Brazil 2019 as they managed to finish fourth at the African nations qualifiers.
Even after they picked one of the tickets to represent Africa at the world championship, the Golden Eaglets weren’t convincing in their preparatory matches.
Out of three tune-up matches played in Sao Paulo to round up their preparations, the Eaglets recorded only one victory out of three matches. Consequently, confidence and morale in the camp of the team wasn’t at the right level to extract trust from Nigerians.
When the competition in Brazil kicked off on October 26, the Golden Eaglets came from behind to beat Hungary 4-2 in their opening group match. However, how they attained victory was said to be unconvincing.
In their second group match with Ecuador, they continued with some of the elementary errors that made them expend extra energy to beat Hungary.
Although they again came from behind to win their second match, it didn’t work out for them against Australia in their final group match as they couldn’t over-stretch their luck.
The Eaglets went down 1-2 to the young Aussies but topped the group to set up the Round of 16 clash with the Netherlands who only managed to qualify as one of the best losers.
Like in their previous matches, the Dutch took an early lead while the Eaglets and their handlers hoped for another comeback but their opponents had other ideas as they showed technical and tactical superiority to beat the five-time champions.
Speaking after his team’s elimination in Brazil, the Head Coach of the Golden Eaglets, Manu Garba said “I expected all the African teams in the tournament to reach at least semi-finals or even win the Cup but I don’t know what happened.
“We have very strong representation in Nigeria, Senegal, Angola and Cameroon but I must say the African teams didn’t live up to expectations.”
At the moment, all the four teams that represented Africa in the world championship have crashed out. The first to exit was Cameroon followed by Angola, Nigeria and Senegal.
As usual, criticisms have continued to trail the poor performance of the Eaglets of 2019 with most Nigerians calling for the Minister of Sports to probe the team’s dismal outing in Brazil.
Even as some Nigerians have not seen anything good in the present squad, some former Nigerian youth internationals who tasted victories with the team at past editions of the FIFA U-17 World Cup spoke to Trust Sports and unanimously said the team shouldn’t be abandoned.
Dami Paul who was in goal for the Golden Eaglets when Nigeria hosted the tournament in 2009 said the Golden Eaglets lost to the Netherlands because the Europeans exploited their weaknesses.
“Although in football anything can happen, I expected the Golden Eaglets to go beyond the Round of 16. I have been in this tournament before so I know how it is done.
“I think the Europeans prepare very well before every match. In this case, they must have taken time to study our team. They always want to go after each of your matches to study your weak points.
“They try to know your areas of strength and weaknesses and work on them. I believe that was what they did to beat the Eaglets. Our opponents were technically stronger. I am disappointed but not too disappointed.
“My wish is that we have future Super Eagles players in that team so the NFF should not abandon the present Golden Eaglets,” said the goalkeeper of the Beach Super Eagles.
Another member of the 2009 silver winning Golden Eaglets, Terry Envoh said the set of 2019 lacked self-confidence and coordination.
He also said the Eaglets put themselves in difficult situations by conceding early goals against their opponents in Brazil.
“Although I didn’t watch their last match, I watched the other three matches. What I can say is that they failed to justify the confidence reposed in them.
“We have to tell ourselves the truth, the team disappointed. I expected them to go beyond where they stopped. We have won the tournament five times so by our standard, they have failed.
“The only time they impressed me was when they played against Australia. Although they lost 2-3, that was their best performance.
“However, it will be unfair to say there are no positives to take from the team’s participation. Some of these players are talented. I believe if they are given the necessary support especially at this time, they would be of use to the senior national team in future,” he said.
Sheriff Isa a member of the victorious 2007 Golden Eaglets also told Trust Sports that the players did their best so they should not be made to feel worthless.
He said even as the team failed to live up to the expectations of Nigerians, some of the players distinguished themselves and should be moved to the next junior national team.
“Of course I expected them to go beyond the Round of 16 but football is about results so they ended at that stage.
“I know most Nigerians are angry as some have even called the players names but they should not forget too quickly the happiness the same players brought to them in the two matches they won in Brazil.
“It is good to encourage them. I feel that those who showed great potentials should be kept together for future engagements. Some of the boys are good. We don’t have to throw them away,” said the former Olimipik Donetsk of Ukraine player.
Another member of the victorious 2007 squad, Mustapha Ibrahim also said the squad of 2019 has disappointed but should not be discarded.
In his submission, the former captain of Wikki Tourists of Bauchi said even as the team dashed the hopes of millions of Nigerians, it was not done intentionally so Nigerians should temper justice with mercy.
“I watched the team’s performance and must confess that they did their best. They wanted to do Nigerians proud but they couldn’t offer what they do not have.
“If you remember, in my previous interview, I advised the Eaglets to stop coming from behind to win matches. I said if they meet technically sound opponents, they wouldn’t get any chance to come back.
“When they came up against the Netherlands in the Round of 16, what I foresaw happened. They fell behind and there was nothing they could do about the situation.
“However, I agree with those who feel some of the players are good and should be monitored for the national U-20 team. If we become too critical of the players, they would lose self-esteem and confidence in themselves,” he said.
The Golden Eaglets who had won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1985, 1993, 2007, 2013 and 2015 were targeting their sixth title in Brazil.