Completesportsnigeria.com's NURUDEEN OBALOLA chronicles how history-making Golden Eaglets of Nigeria conquered the world a record five times at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, starting from the unheralded 1985 set…
The inaugural FIFA under-16 competition in 1985 ultimately served as the platform for Nigeria to launch itself as a footballing power.
Not given much of a chance, the Africans took the first international tournament ever to be held in China by storm, going unbeaten as they claimed Africa’s first ever global football competition.
The Baby Eagles, as they were then known, did not raise expectations when they defeated Italy 1-0 in their first match and followed it up with a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia.
An emphatic 3-0 win over Costa Rica in their third and final group saw the Nigerians safely through to the quarter-finals, where they began to show their true potential.
The Nigerians showed impressive resilience in the quarter-finals after going one behind to Hungary. A stirring comeback saw the Baby Eagles win 3-1 and on their way to triumph.
Fellow West Africans Guinea proved a hard nut to crack in the semi-finals, taking Nigeria to penalties after full-time and extra-time ended 1-1. The mentally strong boys of Sebastian Brodrick-Imasuen won 4-2 and reached their country’s first ever global final.
Few gave them a chance against Germany, but Nigeria eased to a 2-0 victory courtesy of goals from Jonathan Akpoborie and Victor Igbinoba.
Akpoborie and captain Nduka Ugbade, the first man to ever lift the FIFA U-16/U-17 World Cup trophy, went on to become accomplished professionals and senior internationals.
That first global triumph prepared the grounds for what was to become a successful hunting ground for Nigeria.
Nigeria at China 1985
Nigeria 1–0 Italy
Saudi Arabia 0–0 Nigeria
Costa Rica 0–3 Nigeria
Hungary 1–3 Nigeria
Nigeria 1–1 (a.e.t.) (4–2 pen.) Guinea
West Germany 0–2 Nigeria
After coming agonizingly close to defending their title before falling to the USSR in 1987 and crashing out in the quarter-finals to eventual winners Saudi Arabia in 1989, the Golden Eaglets bounced back in 1993.
With arguably the best assembly of Nigerian U-17s ever, coach Fanny Amun forged a team that combined beautiful football with a winning mentality.
Self-styled youth transformer Amun took a team of uber-talented Nwankwo Kanu, Wilson Oruma, Celestine Babayaro and Mobi Oparaku and turned them into a winning machine.
The set of ’93 were not only unbeaten all through the tournament, but they won all their matches, some with ruthless efficiency.
Kanu and Co destroyed Canada 8-0 in their first group match, bludgeoned Argentina 4-0 and saw off Australia 2-0 to claim nine points from nine and a massive plus 14 goals difference.
Hosts Japan put up a brave resistance but fell 2-1 in the quarter-finals, the same scoreline with which Poland and Ghana fell in the semi-finals and final respectively.
Beyond the tournament itself, four of the team’s squad members went on to represent Nigeria at the senior World Cup, all four also winning Olympic gold in 1996: Kanu, Oruma, Babayaro and Oparaku.
Nigeria at Japan ‘93
Canada 0 – 8 Nigeria
Argentina 0 – 4 Nigeria
Australia 0 – 2 Nigeria
Nigeria 2 – 1 Japan
Nigeria 2 – 1 Poland
Ghana 1 – 2 Nigeria
KOREA REPUBLIC 2007
In 2007, the tournament was held in Asia for the third time and it proved third time lucky for Nigeria, the Eaglets following up their wins in China and Japan with success in South Korea.
The Golden Eaglets also completed a virtual clean sweep of all the other accolades up for grabs at Korea 2007.
After beating Spain on penalties in the final, they claimed the adidas Golden Shoe with Macaulay Chrisantus' seven goals. Chrisantus also won the adidas Silver Ball.
The boys of Yemi Tella were ruthless from the start, edging 2001 champions France 2-1 before thrashing Japan and Haiti 4-1 and 3-0 respectively in their group matches.
The round of 16 proved to be a bit tough, but the Eaglets saw off Colombia 2-1, before beating Argentina 2-0 in the quarter-finals.
The Eaglets were too good for Germany in the semi-finals, beating the Europeans 3-1. But Spain refused to budge in the final, holding the Nigerians to a goalless full time and extra time.
The Nigerians however triumphed on penalties, claiming their third U-17 World Cup on Asian soil.
One of the stars of the tournament, Haruna Lukman, went on to represent Nigeria at the senior World Cup just three years later.
Nigeria at Korea 2007
Nigeria 2 – 1 France
Japan 0 – 3 Nigeria
Nigeria 4 – 1 Haiti
Round of 16
Nigeria 2 – 1 Colombia
Argentina 0 – 2 Nigeria
Nigeria 3 – 1 Germany
Spain 0 – 0 (a.e.t.) Nigeria
0 – 3 Penalties
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES 2013
The FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 featured exciting matches and stunning results with the Golden Eaglets who again claimed the trophy by overcoming Mexico in the final.
The Golden Eaglets made history by becoming the first team to win the tournament four times, surpassing the achievements of three-time winners Brazil.
The team, coached by Manu Garba, was another high scoring one, netting 14 times in three group matches.
The Eaglets smashed Mexico 6-1, drew 3-3 with Sweden and thrashed Iraq 5-0.
Iran fell 4-1 in the round of 16, followed by Uruguay’s 2-0 defeat in the semi-finals.
The Eaglets met Sweden and Mexico again and triumphed over both adversaries.
Sweden fell 3-0 in the semi-finals, the same score line by which Mexico succumbed in the final, giving the Nigerians their fourth trophy on Asian soil.
Kelechi Iheanacho, who scored six goals, was named the most valuable player of the tournament, while Taiwo Awoniyi and Musa Yahaya also stood out.
Nigeria at UAE 2013
Mexico 1–6 Nigeria
Sweden 3–3 Nigeria
Nigeria 5–0 Iraq
Round of 16
Nigeria 4–1 Iran
Uruguay 0–2 Nigeria
Sweden 0–3 Nigeria
Nigeria 3-0 Mexico
The Golden Eaglets were attempting to win the title back-to-back for the first time and claim a first trophy outside Asia.
Against all expectations, they achieved both. After coming fourth at the African U-17 Championship and barely scraping through to the World Cup, few gave Emmanuel Amuneke and his boys a chance.
But with the irrepressible Victor Osimhen in full flow, there was no stopping the Eaglets.
They started out by defeating the United States of America 2-0, before annihilating hosts Chile 5-1 in their second group game.
However, having already won their group with a game to spare, the Eaglets suffered a bout of complacency and lost 2-1 to Croatia in a dead rubber.
Amuneke and his boys bounced back with a 6-0 bashing of Australia in the round of 16, then swept aside Brazil 3-0 in the quarter-finals.
The Nigerians beat Mexico 4-2 in the semi-finals, before claiming a historic victory over Mali in an all-African final.
Like Iheanacho just two years ago, Osimhen was the team’s shining light, setting an all-time goals record of 10 goals and becoming the first player in the tournament’s history to score in every game he played.
To cap a wonderful tournament for the Nigerian youngsters, captain Kelechi Nwakali was named MVP.
Nigeria at Chile 2015
Nigeria 2-0 USA
Chile 1-5 Nigeria
Croatia 2-1 Nigeria
Round of 16
Nigeria 6-0 Australia
Brazil 0-3 Nigeria
Nigeria 4-2 Mexico
Nigeria 2-0 Mali