Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets are battle ready to face Sweden in a semi final tie in what appears to be a rematch of the two teams’ clash at the group stage of the ongoing UAE 2013 U-17 World Cup.
Before the start of the age grade tournament, it would have come as no surprise to learn that Nigeria, a side who have lifted the trophy three times and reached the final on three other occasions, would make the semi-finals. Fewer would have anticipated their opponents would be a team making their U-17 World Cup debut.
Sweden have enjoyed a dazzling run of form at the tournament, with one of their finest achievements being a hard fought 3-3 draw against Manu Garba’s Eaglets when the two sides met in Group F. But there can be no draws tomorrow, and the rivals will finally get to see who is the better side in their battle to book a place in the final.
“When we came to UAE our goal was to reach the Round of 16, but we’ve played excellent football and it has taken us even further. We are going to try our hardest to get to the final. It’s not impossible. We have really enjoyed our time here and at the end of the day we’ll be delighted whatever happens, so we have nothing to lose,” said Sweden coach Roland Larsson.
His Nigerian counterpart, Garba sees a total victory for his side, warning that, “the Swedish team should watch out for us come Tuesday. We have learned a lot from the last time we played, and this time we have to be ready for them.”
Nigeria enter the match scheduled for Rashid Stadium, Dubai by 5 p.m. Nigerian time as favourites to maintain their unbeaten run. Alongside Argentina, the African giants are the only team to progress this far without a loss to their name. Eaglets dominated Group F before knocking out both Iran and Uruguay, and though their draw with Sweden could be seen as a slight stumble, their impressive displays of footballing prowess have drawn praise from opponents. Brazil coach Alexandre Gallo described Nigeria as, “a strong side who play a similar game to the Brazilians. Their style is what we call football!”
Opponents Sweden will be looking to neutralize Nigeria’s attacking threat while taking whatever chances come their way, just as they did at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Dubai. Despite only qualifying from the group stage as one of the best-ranked third-placed teams, they went on to spring one of the heists of the tournament by knocking out Japan before overturning a deficit against Honduras to win 2-1.
To Nduka Ugbade, an Assistant Coach with the “other African countries are now looking up to Nigeria, as the only African team left in the competition, to win the event.
“We are now saddled with the responsibility of making not only Nigeria proud, but Africans as a whole, as the only team left in the competition from the continent.
“It is unfortunate that Cote d’Ivoire lost to Argentina eventually. But they played so well and fought relentlessly not to lose out.
“We are gradually getting to the end of the competition and winning is our utmost goal, and we are not relenting till we achieve this,’’ he said.
Nigeria’s offensive flair should be on full display. Coach Manu Garba has selected the goal-hungry duo of Kelechi Iheanacho and Musa Yahaya alongside Taiwo Awoniyi, who proved himself an excellent replacement for the injured Success Isaac when he knocked in a brace against Uruguay in the quarter-finals.