DUBAI // Ever-confident, Manu Garba, Nigeria’s quote-a-minute coach, was in typically bullish mood ahead of Tuesday’s Fifa Under 17 World Cup semi-final against Sweden.
There is reason for his optimism, of course. The west Africans, forever formidable at this level, can rightfully claim to be the tournament’s most feared team, scorers of an unrivalled 20 goals thus far and seemingly with one hand already clasped around an unprecedented fourth world title.
“What are fears?” Garba responded on Sunday to a reporter’s query at the encounter’s pre-match news briefing. “Since I was born, I have never entertained any fear, so I don’t even know what the word ‘fear’ means.”
That he was offering a response to, what at the time, appeared a pretty pertinent question mattered little. Sweden may constitute the only side to have blotted Nigeria’s UAE copybook – they pushed their rivals last month to a high-quality, 3-3 draw in Group F – but that match merely provided Garba with remedy, not restlessness.
“The Swedes are taller than our boys, so when it comes to aerial balls they have an advantage,” he said. “But that notwithstanding, we have played against them and seen them play various matches, and I have the antidote.”
The cure could be instilling in his boys some of that unshakeable belief. Perhaps it is this that guided Nigeria past Mexico – the reigning champions – Iran, Iraq and Uruguay, and all rather comfortably, too.
Even the continued absence of Success Isaac, Nigeria’s prolific striker, has not affected their ambitions, with Garba’s Golden Eaglets remaining ruthlessly resolute in creating their own piece of history. Undeniably, it is a poise passed down from their mentor.
“If you want a player to be good, definitely he must be very confident in himself,” the coach said. “He must believe in himself, be composed and be concentrated. But, above all, we tell each player even in training that they should not want to lose.
“My players are taught to be confident in themselves any time, any day, and I believe that winning mentality has helped them a great deal. We have Sweden ahead of us, before the final, so the most important thing is to win against them. We’re fully prepared to give our best.”
While Isaac’s participation against Sweden continues to be subject of conjecture – “you’ll find out soon enough if he’s playing,” Garba said. “If I told you now the Swedes would be panting.” – Nigeria can still rely on the considerable talents of players such as Musa Yahaya, Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi.
The trio have contributed 12 goals in total, stretching a remarkable streak since this particular side’s inception two years ago.
Having been assembled following a sustained search dating back to 2011, Nigeria’s current class have never failed to score. Sweden, beware.
“The semi-final and final are always very, very tight, but I know our players are fully prepared to score as many goals as possible,” Garba said. “This team has worked very hard, right from the group stages.
“They have played some entertaining, attacking football and scored some incredible goals. But above all our priority is to get to the final. So I believe Sweden is going to be one of the matches that we’ll play with all seriousness, because we cannot afford to go back to Nigeria without the cup.”
8pm, Al Jazeera Sport HD6
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