Successes in the African U-20 and U-17 championships in 2023 will bring joy to Nigerians and keep the country in good stead of credible performances at both world championships. The players need prayers to maintain their current form and be free from injuries.
Nigerian soccer fans direly needed succour when the Super Eagles, bungled a veritable opportunity to appear in its seventh World Cup final in Qatar.
The Eagles disastrously drew 1-1 with the Black Stars of Ghana in Abuja on March 29, in one of the African playoffs for the November, 2022 mundial.
The team had drawn 0-0 with the Ghanians four days earlier in Kumasi thereby eliminated on the infamous away goals rule.
The fans were aghast, with those inside the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja, going berserk. They destroyed stadium facilities and anger was palpable across the nation.
After darkness comes light, as the old adage goes. But there seemed to be no light at the end of this tunnel. The distraught fans needed succour.
The Eagles next engagements were two international friendlies against World Cup bound Mexico and Ecuador in the United States of America in May and AFCON 2023 qualifiers against Sierra Leone and Sao Tome in June.
There were however two sub-regional youth competitions in between: The West African Football Union (WAFU) Zone B, U-17 and U-20 championships.
In this two competitions to be hosted in Niamey, Niger Republic and Cape Coast, Ghana respectively, the two finalists would qualify for the African U-20 and U-17 championships in 2023.
These were competitions of lesser magnitude, but to an average Nigerian football fan, every victory mattered.
The question sprouted: Would the Flying Eagles and Golden Eaglets be ready?
The apprehension was somewhat confirmed. The Flying Eagles only resumed camping with barely three weeks to the competition in May. Coach Ladan Bosso hurriedly invited players to camp.
He lamented the shortness of the preparatory period, but vowed to present a team which would spring surprises.
Coach Nduka Ugbade, also lamented, but made the same promise on the Golden Eaglets. To the average Nigeria fan, the preparatory period was too short for both teams to make impact. The interest waned.
The Flying Eagles however, kicked off the competition in Niamey with a 2-0 spanking of defending champions Ghana on May 8. The team drew 2-2 with Burkina Faso to qualify for the semi-finals, where it beat an enterprising Ivorian team 2-1 to qualify for the final.
This final qualification also earned it a berth at the African U-20 championships in Egypt in 2023.
The team outclassed Benin Republic 3-1 in the final to win the competition.
The triumph took many fans by surprise. Joy was restored even if on a minute scale. The wish was for the Golden Eaglets to follow suit in June. The joy could perhaps be restored in full.
The Eaglets fortunately took the cue and took the WAFU Zone B, U-17 competition by storm. The team on June 11, whitewashed hosts Ghana 4-2. It defeated Togo 3-1 to qualify for the semifinal where it humbled Cote d' Ivoire 3-1. The team sensationally beat a stubborn Burkina Faso 2-1 in the final to win the competition.
Thus, the new kings of the West African sub region football had emerged.
Supreme sought the views of football fans in Ebonyi on both teams and steps to be taken by relevant authorities to ensure that the kingship extends to the African continent and perhaps, the world.
Chaka Nweze, Pioneer Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ebonyi congratulated the Golden Eaglets for the feat, noting that they duly followed the footsteps of their immediate seniors, the Flying Eagles.
Nweze, also former Chairman of Ohaozara Local Goverment Area of the state, said the victories of both teams showed that the astute 'can do' spirit of Nigerians always stand them out among their peers.
Nweze said both teams showed astuteness in their resolve to win the competitions right from the preparations.
"I watched the Flying Eagles training in Abuja before the competition. Despite the short period of preparation, they showed tenacity to succeed. One could see aggression, commitment and efficacy in their approach.
"They dismembered teams they played in their trial matches. The team continued from where it stopped at the competition proper and beat all opponents to emerge champions," he said.
The soccer enthusiast said that the Golden Eaglets had a similar experience that was even more precarious. Bosso had the luxury of picking more established players for the Flying Eagles, but Ugbade had the challenge of raising a team from a pool of rookies who are in schools and academies.
"Ugbade who captained the Eaglets to win the inaugural FIFA Kodak U-16 World Cup in 1985, also contended with the initial setback of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Most of his first team players reportedly failed the MRI scan and he had to raise a formidable team within such a short period," he said.
The former Super Eagles fullback still raised a team which tore opponents to tatters in the trial matches and in the regional championship in Ghana, Nweze noted.
He advised coaches of both teams to sustain such domineering posture when they compete at the CAF and world championships.
Brendan Okafor, a football historian, also commended both teams for their splendid performances at the sub regional competitions and urged them to follow the steps of their predecessors who reigned in the continent and in the world.
Okafor recalled that the national youth teams which dominated the sub region in respective competitions in the past, also did so in continental and world competitions.
"The Flying Eagles that won bronze at the World Youth Championship in 1985 were the best in the sub region and won the African Youth Championship.
"The competition was then contested on a home and away basis. The 1989 set to the competition also won the African championship then called the 'Tessema Cup' and gallantly lost to Portugal in the final of the World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia.
"The 2005 set also conquered Africa en route another silver medal win at the World Youth Championship in Holland.
"The Golden Eaglets squad that took the world by storm and won the inaugural FIFA U-16 World Cup in China in 1985 were the best in Africa. So also were the squads which also conquered the world in Japan 1993, South Korea 2007, United Arab Emirates 2013 and Chile 2015," he said.
Okafor advised that just as the above mentioned successful teams, the coaches should retain the bulk of the players who ruled the sub region.
"We floundered in the past when teams were disbanded or their blending arrangements distorted before major competitions.
"The Flying Eagles and Golden Eaglets coaches must had noticed areas of weakness and should strengthen the affected departments in their teams. They must ensure that the players who would be drafted to fortify the teams are better than the ones they are replacing.
"There should be no place for quota system in the set-ups. The best players, no matter their geo-political inclinations should be selected. Undue interferences from political and related interests should be jettisoned," he said.
Martin Agunanne, former Rangers International Feeders team player, praised the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) for appointing experienced and competent coaches for both national teams.
"Coach Ladan Bosso had garnered enough experience to assemble a formidable team. Having failed with the Flying Eagles in 2007 and 2020, Bosso knew that this might be his last opportunity to impress as a national team handler.
"He quickly set to work with the present team and with less than three weeks to the competition in Niger Republic, produced a team that oozed talents from all departments.
"Nduka Ugbade follows in the same streak. He was an assistant to Manu Garba when the Eaglets conquered the world in 2013.
"He subsequently moved with Garba yet as assistant to the Flying Eagles in 2015. It is instructive to note that Emmanuel Amuneke who was also an assistant to Garba in 2013, went on to defend the title as the Eaglets head coach in 2015," he said.
Agunanne advised both coaches to monitor the players who ensured victories for their teams.
"The period between these periods of conquests and the continental championships in 2023 is far and the players if not monitored, might derail.
"The players' progress at their various clubs should be monitored to ensure that they stay fit and focused because the opposition at the continental championships would be tougher.
"The coaches should be in steady contact with the various clubs where these players ply their trades to ensure they are ready to conquer Africa and the world.
"The coaches should also use this free period to scout for players to fortify areas of deficiency and not to distort the laid down team building process," he said.
Mrs Jane Ofoke, a teacher and football enthusiast, called for prayers and adequate support for both teams as they represent the hope of happiness.
"Between the World Cup qualification ouster and the recent floundering of the Super Falcons in the recently concluded African Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) in Morocco, football fans had been disillusioned over our teams' performances.
"Successes in the African U-20 and U-17 championships in 2023 will bring joy to Nigerians and keep the country in good stead of credible performances at both world championships. The players need prayers to maintain their current form and be free from injuries.
"The NFF and the sports ministry should adequately motivate the players and officials. A situation where the Golden Eaglets were reportedly rewarded with N40, 000 for their conquest in Ghana is appalling. It will not motivate the players.
"The only motivating factor to them will be to excel at the competitions, to secure lucrative deals either at home or abroad.
"The coaches of both teams should be sent to refresher courses abroad to gain more exposure and be in tune with modern dynamics of the game. Redundancy will definitely affect their abilities to compete at the continental and world levels," he said.
Unarguably, with motivation, the two teams will maintain their lead as the Football Kings of the West Coast.