x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Nigeria hitting their stride as U17 World Cup enters the medal rounds

Coach's claim an ominous note after impressive run to semi-finals

Zaharaddeen Bello and Nigeria are flying high going into their Fifa Under 17 World Cup semi-final against Sweden. Richard Heathcote / Getty Images
Zaharaddeen Bello and Nigeria are flying high going into their Fifa Under 17 World Cup semi-final against Sweden. Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

Manu Garba, the Nigeria coach, has sent a warning to the other three sides remaining in the Fifa Under 17 World Cup by claiming his side are improving game by game.

The Golden Eaglets entered the competition with a bang when they thrashed the defending champions, Mexico, 6-1 in their opening pool match.

They have rarely let up since. Their 2-0 win over Uruguay in the quarter-final took their goal total to 20 in five matches.

The Uruguay victory, secured by two goals from Taiwo Awoniyi, represented their lowest haul of the competition, and the manager said they had been wasteful in front of the goal.

“I’ve always said that as long as this competition progresses, these boys can only get better,” said Garba, whose side will face Sweden in the last four at Rashid Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday.

“There were a lot of mistakes and especially in terms of scoring opportunities. I have told the players that when they get into the box, they must be composed, but at this age, they are still learning.”

In the victory over Uruguay, Nigeria were missing Success Isaac, their standout striker, through injury.

Garba said his team “missed greatly” the absent striker, and he says that he will give Isaac a chance off the substitutes bench against Sweden if he is even 75 per cent fit.

All three of Nigeria’s previous titles in the U17 tournament came in Asia, and Garba was part of the coaching staff at their most recent success, in Korea in 2007.

Most independent judges suggest this Golden Eaglets side are well-placed to repeat the feat, and their coach is confident, too.

“At the Under-17 level, it is not all about winning. It is about development and creating a nucleus for the Under-20 team in future,” Garba said.

“But now we are here, we are not just here to participate. We want to compete.”

Fabian Coito, the Uruguay coach, was also full of praise for the Nigerian side.

“They have a very fast team full of very rapid players and we respect them a lot,” Coito said.

“We were trying our best to score a goal, but their rapid movement was very dangerous.

“They deserved the victory and deserved the chance to progress in the tournament.

“They are a strong team and they have very good skills for this age.”

pradley@thenational.ae