The Flying Eagles have achieved the minimum target by qualifying for this year’s FIFA U20 World Cup in Indonesia in May.
Both the team and coach Ladan Bosso must now set aside the fear of failure, which appears to have inhibited their performance at the U20 AFCON in Egypt, to go all the way to be champions of Africa for a record-extending eighth time.
It would be recalled that Bosso failed to qualify the country to the 2021 U20 AFCON and his re-appointment was greeted with shock and a lot of skepticism.
He has gone on to get the Flying Eagles through the sub-regional qualifiers with 2021 champions Ghana one of the teams to fall to his new team.
However, a losing start to the U20 AFCON to Senegal most certainly threw his team off balance even though they showed great character by bouncing back with wins over hosts Egypt and Mozambique to march on to the knockout rounds of the competition.
They did just enough to edge past Uganda in the quarterfinal to qualify for the World Cup.
Senegal and Gambia are the favourites to win this year’s U20 AFCON on the back of what they achieved in Egypt.
Both teams won all their group games and have yet to concede a goal going into Monday’s semifinals.
The Junior Teranga Lions appear to be losing gas by the business end of the tournament, while the Young Scorpions led by inspirational skipper Alaige Saine have continued to grow in confidence.
Bosso’s boys, on the other hand, have not played up to their true potentials, but they could change the narrative especially after they have now booked their place at the World Cup.
Ibrahim Mohammed ‘Beji’ has been far and away the team’s top star in Egypt, just as he had proved in the qualifiers last May, when he netted three goals.
The winger has played with confidence and has not been afraid to try the impossible like his wonder strike against Mozambique, which he conjured out of nothing.
The same cannot be said of most of the team, probably with the exception of Solomon Agbalaka and Abel Ogwuche.
Captain Daniel Bameyi, Olamilekan Adams, Jude Sunday and Haliru Sarki are all decent players, who should now play with less pressure to prove their class.
The absence of Daniel Daga due to a knee injury has affected the team adversely and lack of creativity in midfield has meant the Flying Eagles have not created many chances and have had to rely on individual brilliance.
Mohammed Aminu has been more defensive than creative and showed his limitations right from the qualifiers last year.
Samson Lawal scored a great goal versus Mozambique, but he has not imposed himself in midfield.
He is in Egypt because of last-minute changes to the final squad as he did not convince in training camp.
Jonathan Nicholas has not won the full confidence of the coach, while Caleb Ochedikwu has yet to get his chance even though Bosso has been very impressed with the progress he has made within a short time.
Bosso must dare to start either midfielder against Gambia.
He will also do well to hand a starting shirt to Gent striker Ahmed Abdullahi ahead of the hard working Francis Ayuba, while Olamilekan Adams ought to be considered ahead of Sarki on the wings.
The Flying Eagles must dare and not fear to be champions since they last ruled Africa eight years ago.