|Golden Eaglets Class of 2013|
The Golden Eaglets, against all odds and predictions, failed to lift the African Under-17 Trophy. Their overall impressive performance has however offered succour to an ever-critical fan base. But for a team that showed so much promise, what could have gone wrong?
Coach Garba Manu’s young team brought back smiles to the faces of the fans playing a beautiful brand of football the country was known for just under two decades ago. Although the team only lost the trophy to the lottery of penalty kicks, several factors were glaringly responsible for the team’s failure to win the trophy.
The Eaglets used their biggest strength, their attack, to score goals against opposing teams. However, due to tactical inflexibility, the team could not conjure up an alternative route to goal when playing the hard-tackling Ivorians who neutralized the Nigerians’ attacking strength (in two different games).
Despite most players chipping in their fair share of goals, the team still seems to be over-reliant on strikers Isaac Success and Kelechi Iheanacho. I have serious fears about the fate of the team in the event of injury or suspension to these two.
While Nigeria may be ruthless in front of goal, the defense is a cause for concern. The back four was easily exposed by long passes played into the space behind it, aside being jittery and bereft of ideas when under pressure. The exit of Wilfred Ndidi and Ibrahim Abdullahi to the MRI scan means the coaches need to recruit more defenders.
What the players have in excellent physical condition and tireless work ethic, they lack in physical presence and stature – which put them at an aerial disadvantage against the Ivorians. Like the Eaglets class of 2009 (against Switzerland), the current crop may again suffer the same fate if they play physically imposing sides during the World Cup.
After the wake-up call occasioned by the group stage loss to Ivory Coast, the players managed to steady their heads for a while and get to the finals. But a bit of complacency still set in again in the finals. More psychological hands will be a big plus to the team if it is to do well on the world stage.
The just concluded competition provided a platform for proper evaluation and revealed that a team which was unbeaten in 27 matches, scoring more than 127 goals in the process, was not invincible. While the team’s performance merits a pass mark, there is room for improvement on the part of both the players and coaching crew, especially in the areas highlighted here.
Despite not winning the title in Morocco, Garba Manu has done well for himself. He has once again brought to the fore the need and benefit of early preparation by carefully selecting his boys and turning their individual brilliance to a well knitted unit.
For a developmental competition, winning the cup is not the ultimate goal. I hope, though, that the failure of a team with so much promise and self-belief to win the continental cup will most likely propel them to work harder to excel at the World stage.