Pius Ikedia, Obasi Chinedu Ogbuke, John Mikel Obi, Lukman Haruna, Mutiu Adepoju, Nduka Ugbade, Taye Taiwo, Julius Aghahowa are among the innumerable Nigerians to have illuminated the FIFA U-20 World Cup. A crop of their compatriots will have the chance to do the same in a few months time, when Nigeria again partake in the 20th edition of the tournament, having not missed out in the last 6 editions.
After conquering Africa again, the Flying Eagles have set their sights on becoming the first Nigerian side to win the FIFA U20 World Cup, a feat which isn’t too much for them to achieve. Meanwhile, Thenff.com highlights 7 stars from the current crop who should not only shine at the World Youth Championship but afterwards.
7. Wilfred Ndidi.
Position: Central Defender
The highly-rated central defender featured for the Golden Eaglets in the qualifying series of the 2013 CAF U17 Championship, but was not eligible for the competition proper. He will bring his experience to bear especially in the Flying Eagles defence after he featured at the 2013 World Cup in Turkey. He is composed and organises the back four very well. He only missed out of the AYC because his clubside KRC Genk, refused to release him.
6. Isaac Success
He was the star of the CAF U17 championship in 2013 where he emerged as the top scorer (7 goals); now he is still regarded highly even though he has is yet to feature for the Flying Eagles. Success started well at the U17 World Cup scoring in the opening 2 games, but a hamstring injury cut short his tournament.
Loaned to Granada from Udinese, first he broke into the first team with appearances against Barcelona and Valencia but struggled for form; he scored 1 goal in 27 games and was immediately relegated to Granada B once coach Joaquin Caparros was sacked in January; He has scored 6 in 15 since then. He will be available for selection and the wealth of experience gained whilst playing in the top-flight can be deemed invaluable.
5. Bernard Bulbwa
Position: Right Midfielder
That eye-catching, championship winning goal. That moment of guts and an attitude that best demonstrates a player full of confidence in his own ability to deliver regardless of the magnitude of the game. It is like attempting (and scoring) a panenka when your team desperately need an equaliser in the closing minutes of a World Cup final. With only one goal scored at the African Youth Championship, Bulbwa couldn’t have picked a better game to score it, the final.
And surely it got him a 4-year contract with Tunisian giants Esperance. Watch out for him.
4. Musa Yahaya
Position: Left Midfielder
Some call him the “Nigerian Iniesta” and here’s why: Right-footed and when on the ball he loves to take-on his opponent, drift inwards and have a go at goal. Off the ball, he makes a lot of diagonal run behind the defence, very quick in transition and is readily available as a defensive cover. His ability to set-up his teammates or drag defenders out of position is invaluable.
Yahaya scored 4 goals at the U-17 world cup in UAE scored a couple more as Nigeria prepared for the AYC qualifiers and only missed out of the competition itself due to a knee injury suffered days before the final list was to be released.
3. Taiwo Awoniyi
Taiwo was primarily a back-up to Isaac Success but how mother luck caught up with him eh? The 5 goals he scored in UAE remains an impressive number for a striker who is supposed to be a back-up. Although, blessed with the physique to fend off threats, Awoniyi does not entirely rely on this precious asset. He considers himself a hardworker and will bully his way to glory.
After the U-17 World Cup, Taiwo quickly rose to prominence, leading the attack line and scoring another 3 goals as the Fly Eagles conquered Africa for the 7th time. He has been likened to Rasheed Yekini, that is one debate the great Yekini would have loved to be a part of; he remains the man with arguably the best goal-per-game ratio (37 in 57 games) for the National team. Taiwo has a long way to go, and the tag may have come too early, but his ratio isn’t far behind either albeit on the age-grade level. Yours truly will discuss this issue on a later date, but watch out for the man who became an instant hit for the U-23. He single-handedly handed Nigeria the All Africa Games ticket when our hopes became thin.
2. Kelechi Iheanacho
Position: Attacking Midfielder
He was the star of the 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup. He is a great dribbler, good passer of the ball, packs a decent shot in his left boot and has great vision for goals. Injuries have hampered his development in the last months but the Manchester City youngster will definitely be back for the World Cup. He is simply too good to be ignored.
1. Musa Muhammed
Position: Right full-back
Calm, composed, organized and efficient. Ever seen a defender who defends so well yet has a knack for scoring? The South-Americans have loads of them and now we have ours. Musa ended the U-17 World cup with 4 goals and emerged Top scorer at the recently concluded AYC with 4 goals (all from the penalty spot). Good news is, he scores direct freekicks too.
Despite his knack for scoring, he has not become selfish when in an attacking position. Musa works well with his teammates and remains the perfect leader for this crop of exceptional talent at the U-20.
His decision to snub a call-up to the U-23 for crucial AAG qualifier was widely criticized and rightly so, but it remains the only disciplinary issue we have had with Musa Muhammed. He remains a committed lad and is definitely ready to storm New Zealand. Just like Iheanacho, Musa’s talent is good enough for the Super Eagles and too good for the U-20 to be ignored. CHECK.
Article is written by Tolu Olorunmoteni with contributions from Ayo Olu Ibidapo.