By Jide Alaka
The U-20 FIFA World Cup is the only age grade male football tournament that Nigeria is yet to win; but it has not been for want of trying.
Twice the Flying Eagles, as they are fondly called, have gotten to the final. In 1989, they lost 2-0 to Portugal and in 2005, a Mikel Obi-led team lost 2-1 to an Argentina side inspired by the mercurial Lionel Messi.
The 2015 edition kicks off on Saturday and the team coached by 49-year-old Manu Garba and Nduka Ugbade (who was in the 1989 U-20 side) will hope to finally bring home the trophy even though they will start their campaign against a very good Brazil side on Wednesday morning.
The Nigerian side is replete with the U-17 team that won the World Cup in Dubai in 2013 and has been fortified with more players. However, it is the winning U-17 team that will form the core of the squad in New Zealand. Although the Nigerian squad is the youngest in the tournament, with an average age of 18 years and nine months – they are blessed with some talented individuals.
There are at least five players in the team who should use the tournament to become globally recognized footballers. These are Moses Simon, Kelechi Iheanacho, Musa Yahaya, Taiwo Awoniyi and the captain, Musa Mohammed.
Of these five, I tip Simon to catch the eye the most even though Iheanacho seems to have really matured in the last two months.
Moses Simon | KAA Gent | Winger/Forward | 19-years-old
One thing you notice immediately about this diminutive forward is the fact that he plays with his head up always. For the uninitiated, this is a very great attribute for the best footballers in the world as it helps to quickly assess the best option at every point. Simon also has a close control with both feet. Simon joined KAA Gent from Slovakian side, Trencin, in January for £500,000.
Totally right-footed, Simon was deployed on the left flank by Hein Vanhaezebrouck and the risk and purchase price was quickly repaid with seven goals in the regular season before leading them to a first ever Belgian league title for Gent. If the Nigerian coaches can get him to combine symbiotically with the likes of Iheanacho and Awoniyi, Nigeria could well be smiling to the trophy at the end of the tournament.
Plays with the head up – This grants him the ability to choose the best option available at any given time.
Close control with both feet – So he can bring the ball under control easier than a one-footed player.
Dribbling prowess in close quarters – Ability to make space in very close quarters so can make the space for a cross or shot in constricted areas
Eye for goal in the box – He is able to get into scoring areas and finish first time
Speed – He is also very fast which makes him elusive
Could over-elaborate at times – At 19-years-old, Simon is not yet fully matured so this challenge is one that will get better with age and experience.
Mohammed is a pure example of the modern fullback, more intent on joining the attack even though the FC Heart Academy defender is a very good tackler and judges his movements carefully. But his most potent weapon is his ability to whip in dangerous crosses for the forwards to feed on
Always looking to attack – He drives the team forward from the back and he rarely makes a back-pass unless he is in utmost danger.
Deadly with crosses and set pieces – Already enumerated. He is also the go-to guy in the event of penalties
Tireless runner – He plays as if there is a little pumping machine in his stomach.
Could be caught out of position – Like Simon, this challenge is caused by youthful exuberance and as he matures he will definitely get better.
Awoniyi says he wants to be a Mechanical Engineer, which readily explains his precise positioning and hold-up play. The former U-17 striker could be said to be at a raw developmental stage though the signs show that he could develop into a top world-class forward. In the last 12 months, there has even been a clamour in the Nigerian press that he should be invited to the senior national team – the Super Eagles. Such as been his improvement that the team did not miss Isaac Success at the African Championship where Awoniyi scored vital goals. And he has continued that good form in the friendly matches prosecuted by the team in Germany.
Great battler – He will not be cowed by any challenge from any defender and he is brave enough to endure any battering and ask for more
Off the ball runner – He likes to pin the last defender and then spin into space. Still has to time his off the ball runs a bit better.
Deadly one-on-one – He has shown in the last 12 months that he is cool personified when he is presented with one-on-one chances with opposing goalkeepers.
Needs to score more headed goals – For his height and stature, Awoniyi should be scoring more goals with his head.
Iheanacho has shown in the last two months that he can actually become world-class. The MVP of the U-17 World Cup, Kelechi has a sweet left foot, that can pass and shoot very accurately. If he continues to develop at this rate, then Super Eagles manager, Stephen Keshi will no longer be able to overlook him for a place in the national team.
Ability to be in the right place – At Manchester City, he is being trained to work as a pure centre forward which has helped him better understand how to get more often into scoring areas.
Intelligence in and around the box – He is able to buy that second in the box to wreak havoc and it is an inborn trait – it cannot be coached.
Great dribbler – On one-on-one basis, Iheanacho has the ability to get away from his defender eight out of ten times with intelligent pirouettes and spins.
Fearsome shot – For a forward, he has shown that he packs a punch with his left foot.
Eye for the killer pass – The World Cup winning MVP has also shown that he can play in the No.10 role – as he is not averse to giving a ‘killer’ pass.
Too left-footed – Just like the best left-footed players in the world, he must show that his right leg is not just for walking and balance.
This is a player that is ready to explode and can be compared to Germany’s Thomas Muller whomsquawka.com revealed, has been the ‘Raumdeuter’ or “space investigator”.
And he is also slight of build but a player with so much intelligence who constructs space to do damage to the opponent. He may not get too much game time at this competition because he is just returning from an injury that kept him out of the African Championship, but watch out for him.
Stealth movement – Yahaya is very intelligent in his movement in the last third of the pitch with his ability to get into the opposing box unmarked.
Good passer – He also makes use of the pass to get beyond defenders and opposing midfielders.
Very mobile – A very good attribute for a midfielder to have is high mobility, which makes it hard to be pinned down.
Needs to work on his finishing – Because of his intelligent movements, he will get premium scoring chances so he has to raise his conversion rate.
These are just five names from the 21 named for the tournament and any of the remaining 16 can prove to be the joker when their competition kicks off on Tuesday morning (02:00, July 2, Nigerian time) against Brazil, a team Nigeria has never beaten at U-20 level. But this squad is capable of setting many records for Nigeria.
|1||Joshua ENAHOLO||MFM FC (NGA)||35270||181 cm|
|16||Dele ALAMPASU||Football Acad (NGA)||35423||180 cm|
|21||Olorunleke OJO||Giwa FC (NGA)||34928||189 cm|
|2||Musa MUHAMMED||Heart Academy (NGA)||35369||174 cm|
|3||Abdullahi MUSTAPHA||Spotlights FC (NGA)||35082||167 cm|
|5||Onyinye NDIDI||KRC Genk (BEL)||35415||186 cm|
|6||Prince OMEGO||Apapa Golden Stars(NGA)||35292||174 cm|
|19||Zaharaddeen BELLO||Dabo Babes Acad (NGA)||35785||177 cm|
|4||Akinjide IDOWU||Nigeria Young Academy (NGA)||35317||171 cm|
|7||Bernard BULBWA||Shuttle Sports Aca (NGA)||35349||166 cm|
|8||Kingsley SOKARI||Enyimba FC (NGA)||34849||172 cm|
|11||Musa YAHAYA||Tottenham (ENG)||35780||170 cm|
|12||Ifeanyi IFEANYI||Water FC (NGA)||34926||173 cm|
|14||Chidiebere NWAKALI||Man City FC (ENG)||35425||173 cm|
|15||Ifeanyi MATHEW||El-Kanemi FC (NGA)||35450||173 cm|
|9||Success ISAAC||Granada CF (ESP)||35071||178 cm|
|10||Kelechi IHEANACHO||Man City FC (ENG)||35341||177 cm|
|13||Saviour GODWIN||FC Sports (NGA)||35299||170 cm|
|17||Chidera EZEH||FC Porto (POR)||35705||180 cm|
|18||Taiwo AWONIYI||Imperial Academy (NGA)||35654||181 cm|
|20||Moses SIMON||KAA Gent (BEL)||34892||168 cm|
Nigeria vs. Brazil | Time: 02:00 | Venue: Stadium Taranaki | Date: June 2, 2015
Nigeria vs. Korea DPR| Time: 05:00 | Venue: Stadium Taranaki | Date: June 5, 2015
Nigeria vs. Hungary| Time: 06:00 | Venue: Stadium Taranaki | Date: June 8, 2015