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How Eaglets Captured The Hearts Of Nigerian

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Inspired by Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali, the Super Eaglets overcame Mali in Sunday to claim the title for a record fifth time
 
Nigeria may have lacked their usual conviction during the first half of Sunday’s U-17 World Cup final against Mali , but, inspired by several key performances, they rallied to a 2-0 win to claim the title for a record fifth time.
Victor Osimhen won the Golden Boot as top scorer with 10 goals, breaking a record that had stood for 14 years, while Kelechi Nwakali won the award for the tournament’s best player.
It’s hard to think of too many national sides who dominated an international tournament as emphatically as this. Nigeria played seven, won six, lost one, conceded five and scored an eye-watering 23 goals.
If there is any virtue in starting a game slowly, it is that it places a huge burden of efficiency on the opponent. The message is clear: make hay while you can, before the crackling whip descends. As the window of opportunity narrows, so dims hope’s bright light, leaving a looming dread.
Osinachi Ebere, his only goal so far in the tournament a tame effort in Thursday’s 4-2 win over Mexico, must surely be the most relieved man in Vina Del Mar. Quite what informed the decision, we may never know, but when he stepped up for Nigeria’s second-minute penalty, he was surely doomed from the start.
Some things have appeared so simple for this Eaglets side during this tournament that even they could have let a little complacency creep in and still be confident of securing the end result.
Mali, wearing white for Sunday’s final, brought to the fore the physical superiority that has served them so well in Chile. Their midfield stranglehold in the first period, while firm, lacked decisiveness; Golden Eaglets captain Nwakali would find pockets of space ever so frequently within which to probe.
His efforts saw him win the Golden Ball award, perhaps a nod to his swelling significance as the tournament wound to a close. He was excellent here, unflustered and measured in his movements, the speed of his decisions preternatural. He was a sped-up version of John Obi Mikel, if you will, though the Chelsea man was a lot less successful at this age-grade back in 2003.
This time, there is a fifth U17 World Cup title to show, a record number; also, Nigeria become only the second-ever nation (first being Brazil in 1999) to retain the title.
In truth though, the U17 World Cup has been about one name and one name only: Victor Osimhen.
He stands alone now, his haul of ten goals a record, as well as being the first ever player to score in every single game. Sharp as a butcher’s edge, he took a meaty chunk out of Chinedu Madueke’s pass across the area to draw first blood, wrapping his foot around it in a mother’s possessive embrace.
He may well have had two; his rasping volley had drawn a contortionist save from Samuel Diarra – busy earning the tournament’s Golden Glove – in the Mali goal prior. He is nothing if not persistent, his signature black gloves befitting the greatest assassin this competition has ever seen, his threat on either foot and in the air a showcase of skill with sundry weapons.
As with every other team Nigeria have faced, the Malians wilted after an early flourish, stunned by the viper’s venom into trembling immobility. The inevitable coup de grace came from the boot of Victor Bamgboye, for so long on the periphery of this team due to suspensions; a redemptive work as well as a blow of mercy to put Mali out of their misery.
Already, comparisons have begun between this side led by Emmanuel Amunike and the victorious 2013 group, with Manu Garba at the helm. There are similarities: a glut of goals being one, but this is a far more efficient, if less emotive side to watch; a brusque surgeon to the Manu’s band of gyrating shamans.
As the nation falls in love with another generation of starlets, it is hard to escape the sense – along with the high-pitched warning alarm – that Nigerian football is looking up again. Twenty years on from the nations golden era of football between 1994 and 1996, the eagle eggs are beautifully hatched.
Not all will fly, of course; some will hurtle headlong into oblivion, some will settle for the comfort of the nest and never push on. But slowly, the mural will coalesce—in eight years, we hope to see the best of the bunch: Osimhen, Nwakali, Kelechi Iheanacho, Success Isaac, all stand out in bright colours.
Then again, as the saying goes, it is the hope that kills you.

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