While Africa holds the aces as far as the FIFA U-17 World Cup is concerned with seven titles, (five of which was won by Nigeria), the same cannot be said at the next level, the U-20.
At the Cadet World Cup, Africa can only boast of one title won by Ghana in 2009.
As the 22nd edition of the biennial tournament begins in Poland on Thursday, a former Nigeria U-20 coach, John Obuh, speaks with PREMIUM TIMES on his expectations from the Flying Eagles and why an African team may likely win the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
PT: The stage is set for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. What are your expectations from Nigeria’s Flying Eagles. Are you confident in the quality of the team and believe they can go all the way?
Obuh: I wouldn’t want to put a sort of high or low expectations because you see he (Coach Paul Aigbogun) has a lot of foreign players which might go either way.
If it is me, I would have so much relied on the local ones that I know and the ones that I have actually worked with. But you know football continually changes in Nigeria.
Most of our foreign players are becoming more and more in numbers, our children who are in school or academies, in the underage teams abroad, are becoming more and more in numbers.
I just wish that the new innovation of having more foreign-based players in the junior national team will turn out to be a good thing for us.
I was thinking that all local players and two or three foreign players would have been the best. But I wouldn’t want to say this is bad or good until we see the outcome and let’s see how it goes.
PT: Looking at Group D where Nigeria will be up against Qatar, USA and Ukraine, which of the teams do you consider as our biggest threat?
Obuh: You know that football aside from Africa or Nigeria, the improvement is always being done overnight.
The USA of my time, when I use to play them, I win them anyhow. But I as far as I am concerned, there has been a big improvement in the United States youth soccer, so we should not look them as a non-footballing nation but as a footballing nation.
Qatar is the same thing, having ceded the World Cup to them and they are preparing to meet the standard that is expected of them. I am very sure that they would be coming out very strong too.
I don’t want them to see any of the countries as non-footballing nations but I just want them to be careful because football at this level (U-20) is won from the first game.
Once you are able to tidy up your first game, and your second game, you should have at least been able to qualify from your group to the second stage.
I don’t expect anything short of them qualifying for the next stage.
PT: By your standards, what would you regard as an acceptable performance by the Flying Eagles? How far must they go to be reckoned as a good team?
Obuh: If not because the more you remain, the more quality the team would be, I won’t have dabbled into what their result is going to look like because I want to believe that at that stage, what we are actually looking for is the talents we can harness, at least for the U-23 and Super Eagles.
But you can only get that if you keep winning. You don’t’ expect that when you play one or two games and you come back home. It will make the whole of the players look like they are not good and nobody will look at them again.
So, I am expecting them to at least qualify to the extent that the players would have exhibited their quality for about five to six games; meaning getting into the quarter final and above because that is the only way you can assess the quality of the team.
If they play and are being eliminated early, you would not know the true quality of the team. I am not saying they should go and bring the cup or not to bring it. But by the time they play a series of games, the quality of the players would be seen more and we can then have hope on them for our senior national teams.
PT: Looking at the 24 teams that would be competing in Poland at this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup, which teams do you see as likely champions?
Obuh: Things keep on changing. The last time, it was England that won the tournament and then during my own time it was France and the other time, it was Brazil. You see, things are continually changing and would continue to change. Don’t be surprised that this time with the way things are going, it could also come back to an African team. But I would not want to bet for that but I think that this might just be the time for one of the African teams.
PT: Thank you for time and sharing your thoughts with us.
Obuh: Thank you too.