A group consisting of officials of world football –governing body, FIFA and members of the local organizing committee of the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup will receive the U-20 National Team, Flying Eagles, in New Plymouth on Tuesday.
The Nigeria delegation flew out of Germany (where they had a three-week final camping programme) on Sunday, on the first leg of a 25 –hour journey across three continents. Led by the vice chairman of the NFF Technical and Development Committee, Alhaji Yusuf Ahmed Fresh, the delegation flew aboard Emirates Airline to Dubai on Sunday, and was scheduled to connect a long haul flight to Melbourne from Dubai on Monday morning, before another flight to Auckland (New Zealand’s commercial and economic capital), followed by a 40-minute domestic flight from Auckland to New Plymouth, where the African champions play all Group E matches against Brazil, North Korea and Hungary.
It will be the first Nigerian contingent to be received at a FIFA final tournament in nine months. The last delegation was also U-20; the girls that captivated the football world on the way to reaching the final of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada last year.
Since first playing at the global championship, in Mexico 32 years ago, the Flying Eagles have finished in third place once and won the silver medals twice. But the Nigeria Football Federation and millions of Nigeria ball fans believe the present squad has the talent and strength-in-depth to go all the way.
Manu Garba’s squad is bolstered by a number of players involved in the glorious run to an unprecedented fourth U-17 World Cup title for Nigeria in 2013. Names like Musa Muhammed (the captain), Taiwo Awoniyi, Izu Omego, Zaharaddeen Bello, Mustapha Abdullahi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Akinjide Idowu, Bernard Bulbwa, Chidera Ezeh, Success Isaac, Chidiebere Nwakali and Musa Yahaya easily come to mind.
Wilfred Ndidi and Ifeanyi Mathew were part of the squad from the beginning at U-17 level though were not at the World Cup in the UAE, and newcomers goalkeeper Joshua Enaholo, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Kingsley Sokari have blended easily with the group.
The result is a squad that has over the past 19 months become used to only winning, no matter the opposition. They swept to victory at the African Youth Championship in Senegal after winning a six-team pre –season tournament organized by the League Management Company in Nigeria, and then swept aside the second teams of well-known German clubs TSG Hoffenheim, Nurnberg and Freiburg in friendly matches at their final training camp in Germany.
Their first match of the tournament in New Zealand could not have been a sterner test – a session with five –time champions Brazil in New Plymouth on the first day of June.