The Golden Eaglets will look to lift the Wafu Zone B U-17 trophy when they square up against Burkina Faso in tomorrow's final.
The teenage proteges (with exciting players like Michael, Abdullahi, Williams and Azeez) have been nothing short of sensational in this tournament having ravaged all the teams that stood their way with a brand of football that is way beyond their years.
Having made light work of noisy neighbours Ghana in their first match, they then breezed past Togo in their last group stage encounter before thrashing Ivory Coast in the semi final to set up tomorrow's epic finale.
I now look at 5 factors that contributed to their fairy tale journey to this Wafu B U-17 final.
1, Compactness: as seen particularly in games against Ghana and Togo, the Golden Eaglets hardly broke ranks. They provided minimal gaps for opponents to exploit. They hone in to defend and maintain their shape to attack which helped to create plentiful goals scoring opportunities to which they took bountiful advantage.
2, Set Piece Efficiency: Emmanuel Michael is undoubtedly the standout player of the team with his remorseless set piece deliveries. Whenever Nigeria earns a freekick in promising locations, the players will already start celebrating a goal because Emmanuel scarcely fails to deliver! Although Nigeria fans find this hilarious, it was not a laughing matter for Ghana and Ivory Coast young defenders. With no less than 3 successful freekicks in 3 games (100% success rate) set pieces have served Nigeria well in this tournament.
3, Ruthless Streak: ten goals in just three games are a chilling testament of how merciless the Golden Eaglets have been in front of goal. These ones are definitely not a shrinking violet. They approach opposition 18 yard boxes with fiendish intent and they end up leaving devastation in their wake.
4, Resourcefulness: having come back from a goal deficit to decimate a determined Ivory Coast in their semifinal triumph, the Golden Eaglets showed their character. It was always a worry whether Ugbade’s protégés would be able to claw their way back from a losing position as they never had to do that in the group stages. Those fears have been laid to rest.
5, Superior Tactical Approach: it is quite unusual to see a Nigeria team that does not rely on speedy wingers. In fact, most of the Golden Eaglets forwards are not at all pacy. But they do not need it. The tactical and methodical way in which they build up to goal scoring opportunities aren't reliant on brute speed. Rather, effective communication, compact coordination, neat touches, choreographed movements, a killer instinct and excellent positional play have all been deployed to devastating effects by the Golden Eaglets. Kind of like the Italian national team which did not need speedy wingers and forwards to win the 2021 European Championship.
Although Burkina Faso are expected to be formidable foes, Ugbade’s Golden Eaglets have enough artillery in their tactical arsenal to lift the trophy.