NFF President Amaju Pinnick was in ecstacy on Thursday night after the Golden Eaglets defeated hard –fighting Mexico 4-2 in Concepcion to reach the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015.
Pinnick barely had time to catch his breath from a long trip that took him from London to Buenos Aires and Santiago before arriving in Concepcion. But he was on time to meet the team at the Diego de Almagro Hotels before they set out to the Estadio Municipal Ester Roa.
“I’m very excited, not only with the result, but the way the boys came fighting back after that early goal by Mexico. I keep saying that we have the potential to be world champions in several areas of endeavour.
“These boys have done Nigeria proud. They will go up against Mali on Sunday with great confidence and discipline, and emerge victorious.”
Mexico hit fast and hard as the Eaglets again chose to sit back and soak the pressure in the opening minutes. Magana struck past the brilliant Akpan Udoh in the 8th minute for Mexico’s opener, drawing the Eaglets out.
Captain Kelechi Nwakali drew Nigeria level with a brilliant free –kick with 10 minutes to the end of first half. But there was still time for Orji Okonkwo to rifle past the Mexican goalie in the 43rd minute for one of the goals of the tournament.
Mexico drew level on the hour mark as defender Diego Cortes sliced through the Nigerian defence as if it were not there. But Osinachi Ebere got on the end of a magnificent pass by Nwakali to restore Nigeria’s lead in the 67th minute, as the goalkeeper helped his close range shot into the net.
Victor Osimhen got his ninth goal of the tournament from the penalty spot after the lively right back John Lazarus was upended in the Mexican box, Osimhen thus equaled the tournament record of nine goals (by Sinima Pongolle of France in 2001 and Soulemany Coulibaly of Cote d’Ivoire in 2011).
Before the match, Pinnick had again commended the Golden Eaglets for their exemplary conduct at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, as he met Head Coach Emmanuel Amuneke, players and other officials. In attendance also was NFF Deputy General Secretary, Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme and Assistant Director (Technical) Siji Lagunju.
“Nigerians are happy with all of you because you have represented us well and I’m personally proud of you,” said Pinnick. “I don’t want you to forget that anything you are doing is for our great country, Nigeria.
“Thirty years ago, we won this trophy when President Muhammadu Buhari was the military Head of State and it would be a great thing if we can do it again when he is now the civilian President.”
The NFF President once again heaped encomiums on Coach Amuneke, advising the players to draw inspiration from his leadership quality both on and off the field.
“Your coach has proved that he indeed played for FC Barcelona; that he indeed is a legend of Nigerian football and a worthy African Footballer of the Year for that matter,” he said. “We want you to pay attention to his instructions and know that over 170 Million Nigerians are behind and supporting you.”
He said the occasion was not for talking and the NFF would soon unfold programme and agenda towards keeping these players for future assignments after Chile 2015.
On Sunday in Vina del Mar, Nigeria will be looking for a record extending fifth FIFA U-17 World Cup title, and Osimhen will be looking to set the tournament’s goals record.