Five-time world champions, the Golden Eaglets, were bubbling with a lot more confidence going into the U17 AFCON, which would have kicked off this weekend in Morocco, until the shock decision by CAF to cancel the tournament altogether citing the Coronavirus Pandemic.
A confident team official told SCORENigeria: “This is by far the youngest team with many of them good to give Nigeria 15 straight years at the top.”
Nigeria have been more successful at this age-grade level on the global stage than on the continent after they last emerged African champions in 2007.
The Eaglets Class of 2021 had been fortified with several valuable additions after a rather shaky showing at the WAFU B qualifiers earlier this year when they needed the grace of their conquerors Cote d’Ivoire to get through to Morocco 2021.
Coach Fatai Amoo also had a lot more time to work with the squad, the bulk of whom made it to the sub-regional qualifiers in Togo.
SCORENigeria investigations showed the boys would have shone brightly in North Africa, probably to champions of Africa again only to be robbed of this chance by this cruel cancellation.
What would have been for the Golden Eaglets in Morocco?
Destiny Emuwahen aka ‘Oscar’ was set to remain as the team’s No 1 choice between the posts after a superlative showing in the qualifying tournament in Togo. He will be remembered for his Man-of-the-Match performance in the semifinal against high-scoring Burkina Faso. He is agile, composed and his self-belief has helped the team all round.
Giant central defender Emmanuel Chukwu will be another boy who would have caught the eye in Morocco after a last-minute injury stopped him from the qualifiers.
He is good on the ball and knows how to control the defence.
The Eaglets would have been a lot more exciting in the middle of the park following the addition of Sagir Musa and Dennis Anthony after the qualifiers.
The team lacked creativity in midfield in Togo, but Sagir Musa and Anthony had now brought flair and industry to that department so much so that they had gate crashed into the starting XI.
Anthony, for one, was being considered ahead of captain and defensive midfielder Chukwuemeka Egbu, who was ever-present in Togo, but struggled to be more involved in the play after he has won the ball.
This team struggled to score goals in the qualifying tournament even after they had scored goals for fun in preparatory games.
That problem would have been a thing of the past in Morocco following the emergence of top striker Ahmed Abdullahi, who came off the bench in the final of the qualifiers against Cote d’Ivoire to score twice.
Michael Papo was preferred to Ahmed in Togo, but the young, bullish striker has gained in confidence since that outing and he could have been counted on to get the goals for the country in Morocco as he has done with so much flourish in recent test matches.
It was expected that wingers Joseph Arumala and Christian Nwachukwu would have improved on their finishing to also weigh in with some goals, while striker Stanley Iheanacho could also come off the bench to make a difference in front of goal.
But now the many dreams of these young boys have been shattered to pieces…