The quarter-final matches of the 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup ongoing in Brazil begin this Sunday but Nigeria, the most successful team in the history of the competition, is not among the eight teams still in the hunt for glory in South America.
Since the ouster of the Golden Eaglets last Tuesday by the Netherlands, a lot of questions have been asked and a number of possible factors have been adduced for the disappointing outing by Coach Manu Garba and his boys in Brazil.
After securing two comeback wins against Hungary and Ecuador, Australia proved too difficult for the Eaglets before the team was sent packing by the Netherlands in the Round of 16.
Sontje Hansen scored a hat-trick for the Dutch side, while Olakunle Olusegun got Nigeria’s only goal in that duel.
Here we have some of the identified reasons that possibly affected Nigeria in Brazil.
Questionable selection process
If there is one thing most Nigerians agree about the Golden Eaglets class of 2019, it is the belief that the players selected by the coaches for the tournament in Brazil were not the best the country could have produced.
There have even been widespread allegations of inducements (unproven yet) and coercion in the final selection of players.
Many were taken by surprise when coach Garba sensationally dropped four more key players from the U17 AFCON in Tanzania Fawaz Abdullahi, Shedrack Tanko, Mayowa Abayomi and Ogaga Oduko.
The coach had initially dropped six other players from the team that secured the World Cup ticket with their fourth-place finish.
England-based football scout, Ese Udoko, told Punch newspaper that his adopted son, Ogaga, was unjustly dropped from the Golden Eaglets squad for Abba Abichi, son of the Director-General, Department of State Service, Bichi Magaji, after helping the team qualify for the World Cup.
He said: “It is true. My son Ogaga was substituted for Bichi Magaji’s son, Abba Bichi, and there is no other way we can point otherwise. Those coaches are the ones destroying Nigerian football. I believe the officials from the top are corrupt as well. It is affecting Nigerian football. The less-privileged kids cannot genuinely represent their country without having a godfather.”
The football federation, NFF, has since refuted the allegation with its spokesperson, Ademola Olajire, insisting that Ogaga was not considered good enough for the World Cup
Poor team display
Football is a team game but that important hallmark was largely missing in this set of the Golden Eaglets.
It was obvious everyone in the team wanted to be noticed and this did not help the team at all. With football agents and scouts lurking around to offer lucrative deals, the players seemed to be more preoccupied in ‘selling their market’ than helping the course of the team.
On many occasions, the strikers elected to shoot when a teammate was free. In the four games played in this tournament, the Golden Eaglets played 94 shots and only 29 were on target, that is just 30 per cent, scoring just 9. They also lacked the cutting edge to put the ball into the back of the net.
Better team play and accurate shooting would have helped the team a lot more.
The weakest link in this Golden Eaglets team was their defence which shipped in goals after goals.
There was no semblance of coordination in the defence. They were all over the place in the tournament, and seem not to understand the game.
The Eaglets looked more confused when they adopted to play a three-man defence. The team conceded in the first 15 minutes throughout the competition, and in the third minute in the loss to the Netherlands.
In their four matches, they conceded at least two, nine in all. The defence was one of the weak links of the team, and their errors cost them eventually.
Manu Garba has paid his dues as far as football at the U-17 is concerned but in Brazil, he caught a figure of someone bereft of ideas.
An assistant to late Yemi Tella, when Nigeria won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2007 after a 14-year wait, Manu joined the history makers; leading Nigeria to glory in 2013 in the UAE as he delivered the country’s fourth world title
Surprisingly, however, Manu’s philosophy of playing free-flowing possession football was not seen in this team
He started the tournament with a back three formation and the boys were lost defensively, and when he switched to a back four, they still did not impose themselves.
Perhaps the reported backlog of unpaid salaries and allowances is also taking the toll on the manager or Manu has simply lost touch with modern football.
It was initially reported that Manu has been given boots but the NFF scribe, Mohammed Sanusi, has debunked such claims.
He told the BBC: “We understand the disappointment of the fans but the coach has a contract with the federation and there’s no rush or whatsoever.
“The standard procedure must be followed. For now the NFF technical committee is expecting a comprehensive technical report from the coach about the tournament in Brazil.
“Any decisions going toward will be presented to the board by the technical committee.”
It will be a miracle to see Manu stay on the job with his contract expected to expire at the end of the year.
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