Sunday Dare’s words of encouragement to the Flying Eagles ahead of the WAFU B Cup in Benin Republic was indeed heartwarming however I couldn’t help but question the accuracy of some of what he said.
“The Flying Eagles have always made us proud,” said Sports Minister Dare, as he went on to add: “go there and make Nigerians proud. We believe you are young, talented and determined.”
But, have the Flying Eagles always made Nigeria fans happy?
Ladan Bosso’s Under-20 team to the World Cup in 2007 didn’t make the nation proud when they conceded 4 goals in extra time in the riveting quarter-final encounter against Chile, to be brutally knocked out, with the match poised for at least penalty kicks having ended 0:0 in 90 minutes.
Rather than focus on factors that led to his team’s spectacular collapse, coach Bosso labelled the English referee Harold Webb a racist saying: “What happened on the pitch, the officiating, I think FIFA has a long way to go to beat racism, because that official showed racism.”
Fifa reportedly banned Ladan Bosso from all soccer-related activities for 4 months for “offensive behavior” following that 4:0 capitulation. He was fined 11,000 Swiss francs (€6,700; US$9,000) for suggesting that racism influenced the referee’s decisions.
That incident aside, the last time Nigeria came back home with any medal from the Under-20 World Cup was 15 years ago when Obi Mikel helped power the team to Silver Position in Holland.
The team’s performance in last year’s World Cup was quite shambolic with Aigbogun’s boys playing disjointed football; they subsequently got dumped out by Senegal in the round of 16.
The entire way in which Aigbogun conducted that team left a weird taste on the tongue with reports of alleged questionable practices in team selections
Nigeria had even failed to qualify in 2017.
So when Dare mentioned the Flying Eagles always making Nigeria proud, what did he mean?
Perhaps he meant in the history of the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in which case his statement will not be out of place.
In 5 tournaments since 2005, Nigeria’s Flying Eagles have won the tournament 3 times (2005, 2011 and 2015). We won the tournament 4 times before then making the Flying Eagles the most succsessful team in the tournament’s history.
And when CAF introduced the controversial Wafu zonal pre-qualifying format, Nigeria overcame irritant neighbours Ghana to seal Afcon qualification in 2018. In fact, the Flying Eagles were silver medallists in the 2019 All Africa Games.
So, in the continent, Sunday Dare is bang on the money with his statement but in the world stage, the Flying Eagles need to do more.
The journey to the 2021 Under 20 World Cup in Indonesia starts with the Flying Eagles negotiating a tricky group in the Wafu B tournament starting with the match against Ivory Coast on Sunday and then the crucial encounter against Ghana next week.
The Flying Eagles have the motivation, they have the pedigree (at this level) and they have had decent preparations. All they now need to work out is how to get the results to secure the much coveted Afcon ticket.
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