By Amaechi Agbo
The Flying Eagles of Nigeria will today battle debutants, Qatar at the 15,300-capacity Tychy Stadium in the opening match of Group D of the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup finals.
Today’s game kicks off at 5pm Nigeria time. The second match of Group D, between Ukraine and USA, will begin at 7.30pm Nigeria time as well.
Coach Paul Aigbogun and his assistants have been able to infuse new players into the team that gained qualification in the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations in Niger Republic in February, where the team earned the ticket to Poland, and infusing a number of exciting talents in midfield and attacking realms.
While the choice for the number one shirt is between Detan Ogundare and Olawale Oremade (who was custodian in Niger), Valentine Ozornwafor and Igoh Ogbu are likely to keep their spots in central defence. Captain Ikouwem Utin would be at left back while Jamil Muhammad could be at right back.
In the midfield, much attention will be on the England –based duo Nnamdi Ofoborh and Ayotomiwa Dele-Bashiru, as well as AC Perugia of Italy’s former junior international Kingsley Michael. In this sector also are home –based professionals Effiom Maxwell and Aniekeme Okon, who are rapid raiders on their day.
Dele-Bashiru, of England champions Manchester City has already been tipped by world football –ruling body, FIFA, as one of the players from whom much is expected in Poland.
At the fore, Nigeria has a cosmopolitan flavour with England –based Chinonso Emeka, Norway –based Jerome Adams, Czech Republic –based Tijani Muhammed, Sweden –based Henry Offia and home –based Success Makanjuola vying for available spots.
Aigbogun said Thursday that the group is aware of the pedigree of Nigeria at the FIFA U20 World Cup and cannot afford to under-perform.
“We have a tough history to match. Silver medals on two occasions and bronze medals once, and a number of quarter final appearances. That’s why we must start very well, by taking the points against Qatar and then march on with confidence and self-assurance.
“We are flying the flag of nearly 200 million Nigerians, as well as that of the African continent. We have put a lot of work into building a squad that will make Nigeria and Africa proud.”
Captain of the side, Ikouwem Utin believes it is a big match for the boys and expressed their eagerness to take the three points at stake.
“It is a big match for us, as every other match in this competition. We know the importance of picking up the three points in our first match, which is why we are determined to go all out.
“Taking the first three points will help us plan our approach better for the remaining matches in the group phase, and also boost our confidence,” Utin said at the team’s Vienna House Hotel in Katowice on Thursday. The team will leave their hotel in Katowice for the short drive to Tychy on Friday.
Nigeria has a number of exciting moments at the FIFA U20 World Cup to her name.
The old Soviet Union won the first edition of the FIFA U20 World Cup (then known as FIFA World Youth Championship) in Tunisia in 1977. Six years later, Tarila Okoronwanta’s first half goal condemned old Soviet Union to defeat in Monterrey, Mexico in Nigeria’s first –ever match at the competition.
In 1985, Monday Odiaka scored after only 14 seconds against Canada in a group phase match, which remains a record. At the same tournament, reserve goalkeeper Christian Obi thwarted host nation Soviet Union in the penalty shoot-out of the third-place match to hand the bronze medals to Nigeria.
Four years later, Christopher Ohenhen’s bullet-like free kick that gave Nigeria a 2-1 win over host nation Saudi Arabia was the competition’s 500th goal. Few days later, midfielder Christopher Nwosu’s blistering run and shot in the last minute earned a 1-1 draw with old Czechoslovakia in the final group phase match and took Nigeria to the knock-out stage.
In the quarter finals, the Flying Eagles came back from 0-4 down to defeat the same old Soviet Union after penalty shoot-out.