Speaking ahead of today’s semi-final clash against the Amajimbos of South Africa, Golden Eaglets’ Head Coach Emmanuel Amuneke admitted in an interview with the Team Media Officer (TMO), Morakinyo Abodunrin, that it would be a keen contest but insists his boys would grind another win and qualify for a consecutive African U-17 Championship final match. Excerpts …
At some points during the preparation for this championship, you predicted that Nigeria would most likely meet South Africa, are you happy now that you are both meeting in the semi-finals?
We are okay and first, we are grateful to God that we are privileged to be in the semi-final. If you remember we were to play them in a friendly match in Kaduna unfortunately, it did not take place. Now we are going to play them in the semi final and we are optimistic we are going to give our best. We have worked very hard to reach this stage and we just have to remain focused; and in the field of play, we have to do our job. Let us see how it goes but our dream is to win the semi final match (against South Africa) and proceed to the final. Like I kept on saying, only God knows because our journey is not in any man’s hand but in the hands of the Lord. As human beings, we only have to do our job and leave the rest to God to pilot the journey.
Nigeria has not lost to South Africa in a competitive match, how are you going to keep this record at the U-17 level?
We are not trying to keep any record but what we would be trying to do is to win our game (on Wednesday). But we should not forget that the South Africans are good to be among the last four teams at this competition and would be representing the African continent at the World Cup (in Chile). If you look at their game, you will know that it is a well-structured team regardless of the fact that they might not be scoring lot of goals. It a team that is well disciplined and they are patient with the way they are playing and they stick to their ideas and concepts. So, it is left to us to come up with an idea and formula to play them so that they would know that we are a very good side too. This is a total different scenario and we are not interested in saying we have not lost to them or we have lost to them before. What is most important for us is that God’s willingtomorrow (today), we are able to secure our journey to the final.
The South Africans are here for the first time, are you impressed with what they have been able to do here?
Yes, we must give both their coaches and players credit. I was privileged to watch two of their games; they were leading Cote d’Ivoire, unfortunately, the game ended 2-2 and in the other game, they were losing and they fought back to finish at 2-2. So it shows the depth and strength of the team; it a team that likes to play; look for solution and they have some quality players particularly their top striker who can shield the ball very well. But we have to find a way to contain them and make sure that in the middle, we struggle the up balls with them. If we can play our own game, it would become much easier for us and it is our hope that our boys would be in the right frame of mind and be able to carry out the task.
Before the game against Zambia, you identified a particular player who could give the Golden Eaglets lot of worries and you provided an antidote for him; have you also indentified players in the South African team that could give your boys any problem?
They have about four or five players that are very good in that team; apart from the striker (Loph Willy Gohore) that can protect the ball very well; their strength is in the midfield with the captain (Nelson Malueke); No.5 ( Athenkosi Dlala) who is very defensive but generally, they like to circulate the ball in the midfield . Against Zambia, we identified some players and our boys were able to listen and carried out our instructions. Likewise against South Africa; we would plan and play as a team.
What is the joker for South Africa?
My joker is for us to win (laughter)
One of your key defenders, Lukman Halilu, has been ruled out of this encounter, is it going to have a reflection on the game and are you going to miss him?
Yes, if we have our way, we would have loved to have all our players available going into this match. But we must be ready for all the inconveniences that the game brings. This is one of those inconveniences when one of our key players is not going to play the next game. Hopefully, we would find the solution and find other players who can also do the same job.
Have you gotten a replacement for him (Halilu)?
For the moment, we are evaluating and observing all the players; and after our last training today (Tuesday) we would look at the team deeply and be able to come out with a plan against South Africa.
This game is just hours away, what is your prediction?
I don’t like to predict but I’m optimistic; or make noise about any game but I’m optimistic that we are going to win .But for us to win; we have to work very hard because hard work is the key to success. We have worked and pushed ourselves; we have gotten angry with ourselves; encouraged ourselves and we would continue to inspire ourselves. Hopefully, God will lead us to what he has planned already for us.