Nigeria’s U-20 team, the Flying Eagles will be up against an age-long jinx when the FIFA U-20 World Cup gets underway off in New Zealand on May 30.
In the country’s 11th appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the Flying Eagles have been beaten twice in the grand finale, 1989 and 2005. Nigeria have also finished the competition with a bronze medal in 1985. Thrice, Nigeria have featured in the semi-finals.
The Flying Eagles failed just twice in their ten previous appearances to escape the group stage (1983 and 1987)
Brazil, Hungary and Korea DPR are the Flying Eagles’ group opponents in New Zealand.
The Flying Eagles will face the South Americans first on June 1 at Stadium, Taranaki, New Plymouth.
Nigeria go into that contest knowing they have never defeated Brazil at this level in a competitive game.
The road to New Zealand
Going into the 19th CAF African U-20 Championships, Nigeria were one of the clear favourites and the Flying Eagles lived up to their top billing. After just two matches, they had made sure of a place in the semi-finals and secured their ticket for the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals. They twice had to come from behind to draw their final group game 2-2 against Côte d’Ivoire, but that was the only blip on their record in Senegal. They then beat rivals Ghana 2-0 in the semi-finals and defeated the host Senegalese for the second time, having beaten them 3-1 in the opening game, in the championship match, winning their seventh African title.
Strengths and style
With 12 goals from five matches in Senegal, Nigeria proved themselves to be an attacking powerhouse. Six different players got onto the score sheet, with captain and defender Musa Mohammed surprisingly topping the scoring charts with four. Manu Garba’s team is also capable of playing a patient game – as they did in the semis against Ghana – where the Black Satellites dominated much of the game, but the Nigerians bided their time and scored the goals. Garba’s team should have more high-level experience in New Zealand as he’ll be able to call on the likes of European based starlets Isaac Success, Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi.
Manu Garba knows what it is like to compete at the highest level. Two years ago, he was in charge of the Nigerian U-17 team that lost on penalties in the final of the African U-17 championship against Côte d’Ivoire. He went one better at the World Cup in the United Arab Emirates later that year, guiding his side to the title. He has taken many of the players from that team into his U-20 side.