It was not a surprise that central defender Usman Ibrahim took his game-defining goal for the Golden Eaglets like a striker should because until recently he was one.
He rose highest in a crowded box to powerfully direct a corner home and restore parity for Nigeria against Hungary at 2-2 with about 10 minutes left on the clock.
That must have turned the strikers in the team green with envy and it was also the tonic the Eaglets needed to score two more goals to record a comeback win as they opened their campaign on a record-extending sixth World Cup conquest.
Coach Manu Garba said he expects a lot from ‘Walidi’ Usman Ibrahim, the only player from the country’s U16 team to an invitational tournament in Japan in May to make the final cut to Brazil 2019.
“Usman has been a revelation with the way he has quickly and seamlessly integrated to the team,” Manu remarked.
“He’s a boy with a very bright future.”
The player wearing the No 6 shirt in Brazil is composed, almost unfazed under pressure, has a good technique and does not shy away from his responsibilities.
The FC Hearts star has had to step in for injured David Ishaya, who was the pillar of strength and confidence in the back four for both the zonal qualifiers in Niger and the U17 AFCON in Tanzania in April.
Nigeria U16 coach Lawal Dankoli told SCORENigeria that the youngster has a big heart and could even be more valuable in Brazil should he be pushed upfront.
“He was a key player for us in Japan and played in all our matches,” said Dankoli, who is credited with giving the likes of Emmanuel Dennis, David Okereke, Orji Okwonkwo and Sadiq Umar their big breakthroughs at the Abuja Football College.
“I believe the boy could even do more up field for the Eaglets at this World Cup because he has a big heart, he’s not intimidated and that explains his versatility.”
Usman Ibrahim was first spotted in Kano by Yaya Jafaru Kofar Mata aka ‘Yaya Store’, Abdulkadir Mahmuda Umar ‘Titina’ and Mustapha Nasiru.
“He started out as a midfielder, then played in the wings before he became a striker, when our main striker was injured. He was scoring three, four goals a game,” Titina told SCORENigeria
“It was coach Danladi Nasidi (Nigeria U15) who will then convert him to defence.
“He’s still growing and as long as he keeps working hard, he can make a career out of this game.”
‘Walidi’ has already got off to a flying start at the World Cup and will hope to do more on a massive stage that has launched the careers of some of world football’s top stars.