x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Under 20 World Cup is already on the horizon for Nigeria’s U17 champions

Musa Muhammed is confident his career and Nigeria's graph is set to take off from the UAE.

Musa Muhammed, left, has high hopes. Sammy Dallal / The National
Musa Muhammed, left, has high hopes. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Nigeria’s victorious captain Musa Muhammed, after hitting the target with a fabulous free kick of pin-point accuracy during Friday night’s final, has now set himself three more goals.

One is relatively easy, one is surely inevitable and one is going to require every ounce of dedication the 17 year old can muster.

Muhammed’s first task is to return to Owerri in southern Nigeria, where he will reunite with his FC Heart Academy teammates and show off his Under 17 World Cup winners’ medal to friends and family. He called his side’s 3-0 victory over Mexico a “massive achievement” and, with his golden medal still swinging proudly from his neck, added he is already “looking forward to showing this off. I am so very, very proud”.

His second task may take a few days longer.

A tireless right-sided full-back, Muhammed’s marauding forward charges were tempered only by his discipline in defence. Yet while his work-rate impressed, it is the accuracy of his right foot that caught the eye most. Aside from his curling free kick, the captain was also creator of Nigeria’s second goal as his stinging long-range effort was parried into the path of teammate Kelechi Iheanacho.

With such high performances in front of scouts from across the globe, Muhammed is targeting a transfer.

“This is what I am praying for,” he said. “Because of the way I am playing and the way the team is succeeding, I am hoping my career will now take off. It is a massive achievement for me to win and to score in the World Cup final.”

His third task will undoubtedly prove his most difficult yet in a fledgling career.

The ticker-tape at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium had yet to even land post-match and already Manu Garba, Nigeria’s engaging coach, was already refocusing and talking of the Under 20 World Cup in New Zealand. There is no doubting the ambition, and Muhammed is embracing it.

“To play Under 17 and win is a great achievement and it proves we are on the right track,” he said. “We followed the instructions of our coach and that is why every game we improved because we were adapting to what the coach was telling us. We played our top game against Uruguay – it was our best game because they were so strong and their ball positioning was fantastic, yet we won. That is something to be proud of.

“Now we are graduating to U20 level and looking to the tournament in 2015. We will do a lot of things similar and try to make our country proud again.”

While this weekend’s victory means Nigeria have won a record four times at U17 level, they have still yet to triumph at U20. They reached the final in 1989 and 2005 and finished third in 1985.

“We know it will be very difficult,”Muhammed said. “But we are determined to make sure we make our people happy.”

On the evidence of the past three weeks in the UAE, Muhammed have every reason to believe.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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