— Manu Garba takes his triumphant U-17 World Cup graduates on a bigger hunt in New Zealand, with the junior Selecao posing as the biggest hurdle
Completesportsnigeria.com’s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI and JAMES AGBEREBI spoke to stars of Nigeria’s past U-20 World Cup teams, who assess the chances of Manu Garba’s team in New Zealand and also take us down memory lane to when Nigeria confronted Brazil at the U-20 World Cup without success.
The first time Nigeria met Brazil at the U20 World Cup was in 1983 in Mexico. Yisa Shofoluwe was a member of the
Flying Eagles that played against Brazil at that year’s World Cup. Shofoluwe, nicknamed Nigeria’s Defence Minister by late sports commentator Ernest Okonkwo for his great defensive brilliance some years later, expresses optimism that Manu Garba’s team can go all the way and win the World Cup in New Zealand. But he provides a caveat to the team achieving that objective.
“It’s possible that this current crop of players can win the World Cup but it depends on the way they start. They’ve been together for a long time, they know each other so I think for a team to succeed, they need such chemistry. So I am optimistic about their chances.”
GREAT START, GREAT PROMISE
Speaking specifically about the team’s chances of beating Brazil when both sides meet on June 1, Shofoluwe said:
“I like the fact that they are playing against Brazil in their first match because I believe it will boost their morale and also make them prepare very well and play their hearts out. And I am confident in Manu Garba because he was in our team in 1983, so he knows what it means to play against Brazil at this level.”
Shofoluwe then recounts the game against Brazil in the 1983 World Cup in Mexico. Nigeria lost that first clash against the South Americans 3-0.
“In our game against Brazil in 1983, we had a little problem in the attack and the coaches were arguing about who to start before they settled for Dahiru Sadi. They decided to go for him believing that he can play the role very well but unfortunately he had never played there before because he was an attacking midfielder, a good one at that. But when the game started, he couldn’t cope in the position and the Brazilians capitalised on that.
“They scored a free-kick, followed by the second and third goals. The first half finished 3-0 but in the second half the game changed, we had chances but couldn’t convert them. I think the coaches argument on who to play in the attack affected the players. Then in our third game against Holland who had Marco Van Basten, we played a 0-0 draw.
“We tried our best but couldn’t score and eventually crashed out. We had a good team but it was destined that we were not going to progress into the next round,” Shofoluwe concluded.
ALLOY AGU needs no introduction in Nigeria at least for the older football fans. The goalkeeper was a long serving Nigerian goalkeeper in the Super Eagles. However before his senior national team career took off, Agu was a junior international and was in goal and paid a big price for his troubles when Nigeria were defeated by Brazil at the 1985 U-20 World Cup in the then Soviet Union.
PRAY AND… WORK HARD
First before he talked about his experiences playing against Brazil 30 years ago, Agu spoke about Manu Garba’s team chances in New Zealand.
“The Flying Eagles have a very bright chance. We’ve been there before and gone as far as the final of the competition and I think this is an opportunity for them. For a team that has been together for a while and conquered Africa, we believe with prayers and hard work, they will do the same at the world stage.
“There is nothing special about the World Cup, they need to do what they know how to do; that is being determined and working hard, remaining focused in every game as they come and not taking any team lightly. Most of them have tasted what the world scene is all about especially from the Golden Eaglets and from there to the Flying Eagles. So I believe they know what it is and they will give a very good account of themselves.”
And speaking more specifically about the game between Manu Garba’s team and the Brazilians on June 1, Agu tips his compatriots to go all the way.
“With this present squad, I think they can go to places. A lot is expected of them and I know they can deliver. Brazil is not invincible, at the senior World Cup they were dealt with (at the 2014 World Cup) so I will urge them to go out there and be confident. At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 we beat the Brazilians when least expected. I think the crop of players now in the Flying Eagles can do us proud,” Agu said encouragingly.
Then the former goalkeeper who has trained so many young keepers casts his mind back to the meeting against Brazil in Soviet Union.
“The game we lost to Brazil in 1985 was just hard luck. We had so many chances to win the game but we were just unlucky. I was in the goal and I sustained a fracture before I conceded the two goals and at the end of the day we lost 2-0.”
But he takes a positive from the experience.
“But it was very interesting because at the end of the day, we came back with the bronze medal after beating Russia in the third place match. Like I said to you, Brazil is not invincible, if we are determined and with the crop of players we have, coupled with their record and the continuity and understanding in them, we will be able to give Brazil a run for their money.
“If we had converted the penalty we had, who knows what would have happened. So that is one thing about football, It could go either way but the outcome of it was that we lost the penalty but at the end of the day, we came back with a bronze medal which was very important for us.
PAUL HAMILTON, who was in charge of the Nigerian 1985 U-20 World Cup squad, bared his mind on his expectations from the team.
“I am so excited about the team because they have been together, training together and playing against quality oppositions in their warm-up games. And the fact that most of them graduated from the U-17 gives them the edge. I am confident they have what it takes to win the U-20 World Cup for Nigeria for the very first time,” Hamilton tells Completesportsnigeria.com.
And talking about Nigeria’s game against Brazil at the 1985 U20 World Cup, Hamilton adds:
“As we all know, Brazil is a country full of talented players. Also, the Nigerian team was full of talent. For me, the loss to Brazil was one of those things in football because my players did well, they gave their all but unfortunately we lost. And I remember before meeting Brazil, we had defeated a very good Mexico team. And we thought we could repeat the same thing against Brazil but it wasn’t to be.”
Moving on to the 1987 squad coached by Christopher Udemezue, Nigeria had a team that was then hailed as the most skilful Flying Eagles side Nigeria ever had.
One of the leading cast in that team was a certain divisive but extremely talented midfield gem known as ETIM ESIN. Esin’s inclusion in the Flying Eagles side that travelled to Chile for that year’s U20 World Cup raised a lot of dust and threatened to ruin Nigeria’s outing.
Esin was a victim of an armed robbery attack in Lagos days to the competition. He was shot by the gunmen and his involvement at the tournament was in doubt but the then President, Ibrahim Babangida, according to Esin himself whilst speaking with
Completesportsnigeria.com, ordered for his treatment which fast-tracked his recovery.
Completesportsnigeria.com asked the self styled ‘African Maradona’ about the chances of Manu Garba’s team in New Zealand, why the Flying Eagles cannot defeat Brazil at the U20 World Cup in the past, if Manu Garba’s team are the best Flying Eagles side in history and of course his experience when the Flying Eagles were defeated by the junior Selecao in Chile.
DEPTH OF TALENTS IN 2015 SQUAD
“We were home-based players with very talented boys amongst us. In fact Belgian side Gent came to Nigeria to play a friendly against us and that is where they spotted me.
“If you want to talk about talents, although this present side are good, you could also look at the 1987 and 1989 sides, especially the latter that got to the final of the World Cup.
“There is undoubtedly a depth of talent in this team that Manu Garba has assembled but they should get to the World Cup first, defeat Brazil first then we will see. You cannot draw a distinction now. The team should work harder.
“The Brazilians have great organisation and are more tactically disciplined than the Nigerian team who depend on pure talent and physicality. They are superior to us and that is the truth. Their players play in some of the best leagues in the world. At that level, they are already top notch professionals and know what it means to to win a game and tournament.
1987 EXPERIENCE AGAINST BRAZIL
“We lost that game 4-0. Everybody expected great things from us due to our exploits on the African scene. It was a morale booster to play against Brazil, that was a turning point for us. We had belief. There was also had Italy and Canada in that group. Nduka Ugbade who is the present assistant coach of the team was in that game too. But the Brazilians were too strong for us and we never recovered after that beating,” Esin said.
Next to speak to Completesportsnigeria.com on the poor showing of that 1987 squad was JONATHAN AKPOBORIE.
THE NOT-SO GREAT COMPARISONS?
“The present Flying Eagles squad are not more talented than the 1983 side. The 1985 side were also great. I do not want to sound as if I’m blowing our own trumpets but the 1987 team were made up of very talented players although we had distractions in the team with the inclusion of a player like Etim Esin whose experience in the hands of armed robbers because a player like Etim Esin with the emotional trauma of being shot by robbers should not have made the squad,” Akpoborie said.
On why the Brazilians have proven to be hard nuts to crack, Akpoborie offers his thoughts.
“The Brazilians are talented just as us but they have a bit of the European organisation. They play in Europe where
football is most organised. Most of our lads play at home. It is an indictment somewhat on the Nigerian football federation that we don’t have a good structured youth system really.
“The Brazilians were simply better in 1987, exposed and more motivated,” the former Stuttgart of Germany striker told Completesportsnigeria.com.
BRAZIL’s ROAD TO NEW ZEALAND 2015
Brazil progressed to the final phase of the South American U-20 Championship as Group B runners-up behind Uruguay,
to whom they lost. There, six teams battled for four tickets to New Zealand, and fourth is where A Seleção finished, with seven points from four matches. That may have been a disappointing return for that competition’s record 11-time champions, but bright sparks included four goals from diminutive attacking midfielder Marcos Guilherme, a couple of long-range piledrivers from powerful forward Thalles, and the swashbuckling skills of 17-year-old Malcom.
BRAZIL’s STRENGTH AND STYLE
Brazil adopted a defensive set-up at the South American U-20 Championship, and with it they struggled for goals.
They failed to score in four of their nine games, and only posted more than two goals once. That was indebted to
poor finishing rather than a lack of invention, as in Marcos Guilherme, Nathan and Malcom they possess masterful creators.