Just like Sebastien Broadricks-Imasuen, Fanny Amun and the late Yemi Tella, Manu Garba is on the threshold of leading Nigeria to another cadet World Cup title. Manu and his glory-seeking Eaglets are just 90 minutes away from glory at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup final in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.
Unlike the others, Manu’s feat, if his dream turns reality this evening, it will go down into FIFA’s books as the first time any country will be winning the trophy a record fourth time. As assistant to Tella at the 2007 edition in Korea, Manu knows the sweetness that goes with winning. The Bauchi-born coach is already salivating for the big deal!
However, despite having earlier humiliated the defending champions 6-1 in their group clash, Manu is not the one to delude himself that the task at hand is an easy one.
“There won’t be any pressure on us against Mexico, because we’ll be physically and mentally prepared for the match. But I repeat that Mexico is a dangerous and very skilful team. We’ve witnessed their resilience since losing to us 6-1, a result which did not prevent them from reaching the final,” observed the Nigerian gaffer while strategizing ahead of this evening clash at the Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium.
He is well aware what the Central Americans did to both Brazil and Argentina en-route the final. Long before the tournament even kicked off, Mexico and Nigeria were already regarded as favourites to claim the silverware. But after the 6-1 humiliation suffered by El Tri in their opening match against the Golden Eaglets, the title holders’ dreams of defending their trophy appeared to have been prematurely crushed while for Nigeria, it was a reconfirmation of its determination to pick a fourth title.
But El Tri recovered from that shock. As the Eaglets went from strength to strength, Raul Gutierrez’s men dug deep to prove they can repeat what they did at the 2011 edition.
Judging by the two semi-finals, where Nigeria saw off Sweden 3-0 and Mexico defeated Argentina by the same scoreline, the showpiece match today therefore appears a battle of the equal.
Manu Garba’s charges however have two significant statistics in their favour: they are yet to be beaten in the competition, and they boast the most prolific attack (23 goals). Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Musa Yahaya spearhead a side that is constantly on the move and harasses the opposition with or without the ball, posing a serious challenge for any defence. The return of injured Isaac Success may further add pep to the Nigerian attack.
Going into today’s final against Mexico, the Golden Eaglets have played a total of 48 matches; won 43, drew 4 and only lost once; scoring a total of 218 goals and conceded just 53.
El Tri, meanwhile, have found the net with much less frequency (11 times), but can boast a compact unit that bounced back from their initial setback to eliminate Brazil and Argentina.
One player who may give Eaglets back four much hasles appears to be Marco Granados.
The Chivas Guadalajara forward is El Tri’s secret weapon. The supersub has taken part in all six of his team’s matches, but has only been on the pitch for a total of 106 minutes. He makes up for his lack of playing time with high-quality incursions and intensity – in the quarter-final against Brazil.
The Mexican No10 came off the bench to provoke a dangerous free-kick which led to the opener, and in the semi-final versus Argentina, he smashed home his side’s third goal. If Granados makes a cameo appearance in the final, the Nigerian defence would do well to keep him closely shackled.