Nigeria the best of the teenage world champions.

Nigeria is a multiple world champion, the best in teenage football tournaments organized by FIFA, they are not just champions but the most successful in this category. They have reached eight finals while the closest is Brazil- with six, Ghana and Mexico- with four each, from the most final appearances they are also the leaders in titles accumulated

Nigeria from eighteen editions participated in twelve reaching the finals eight times from eight semifinals, they were knocked out in the quarter finals twice and in the round of sixteen once, failing to advance from the group stage just once. From more than sixty games have lost just six times.

In international football their tournament dominance is simply astonishing, their five wins is more than the accumulated total that Europe has won with one each from France, Russia, Switzerland and England,

 it is better than the south American continent with Brazil`s four, it is also more than the remaining three titles between Mexico`s north America with two and Asia`s one. with Ghana`s two titles they have given the usually less successful African continent something to be proud of.

The south American duo of Argentina and Brazil have maintained a stranglehold in the U20 tournament and with Uruguay and 5 countries from Europe the senior world cup.

Champions from inception

Champions in China

The golden eaglets as the Nigerian team are called won the very first edition held in China in 1985, it was referred to as the U16 tournament with sixteen participants. They were prepared and were part of the few countries that had started competing and doing well at the other youth tournaments. they also participated in the U20 world cup which started in 1977 making their debut in 1983. The West Africans started by defeating Italy by a lone goal, a goalless draw with Saudi Arabia, and a three-nil thrashing of Costa Rica finishing second on goal difference to the Arabs, they beat Hungary by three goals to one in the quarter-finals and Guinea on penalties by four goals to two after a score draw In the semifinals. They defeated Germany in the finals and also became the joint first country with Brazil to have two medals in the same year in both the U17 and U20, gold and bronze medals which was a benchmark until Brazil in 2003 and England in 2017 set a golden standard.

Interestingly, in 2003 Brazil, Spain, Argentina and Colombia were a semifinalist in both tournaments a record, with Argentina and Colombia alternating in winning bronze in the classification match. Argentina won in U17 and Colombia in U20. Spain won silver in both while Brazil won double gold from two finals.

 Brazil and England won both categories in the same year.

A near miss with a silver lining.
The golden eaglets came close to retaining her title in Canada in 1987 after a narrow win against the Italians in the semi-finals with the solitary goal scored by Christopher Nwosu in the second half but lost in the finals to the Soviet Union (Russia) on a penalty shootout, the first finals to go the distance, the Russians added the U17 title to the inaugural U20 title won in 1977 becoming the first double champions and the first European win. The Nigerians did not perform as expected in 1989 crashing out in the quarter-finals to Saudi Arabia, they went on to win the tournament becoming the first and only time an Asian country had won a world cup at any level.

Second coming-another title


The best in the world

Nigeria returned from missing out on the last edition in japan in 1993 and became world champions for the second time winning all their matches within regulation time, they had in their ranks Babayaro, Oruma, and Kanu star players that formed the core of the all-conquering Atlanta 1996 Olympics gold medal winning team-African`s first. They have made it a habit of winning in Asia, it was also the first all-continental finals, and Africa became the first to achieve this milestone, the Europeans had participated in the four previous finals and Poland was beaten in the semifinals by Nigeria. This classic encounter was a battle between two West African giants with Ghana the defending champion like Nigeria in 1987, attempting to become the first country to retain this tournament. But the Nigerians won by two goals to one, a score line they used in winning all their knockout matches. They shared the individual awards with Ghana`s Daniel Addo winning the golden ball while Nigeria`s Wilson Oruma won the golden boot, Nigeria also won the fair play award. It was the first time that the kick-in was introduced as a trial to replace the throw-in. Nigeria became the first team to win twice.

In 1995, Nigeria the defending champions lost to Oman in the quarter-finals, Ghana went on to win making it two titles from three consecutive finals and three wins in succession for Africa, it was the only time a continent had won in such a manner. Nigeria failed to qualify in the next two editions, but a switch in momentum started with Brazil winning the subsequent tournaments, they won in Egypt in 1997 for the first time with a certain Ronaldinho also a first for South America and joined Russia as winners of both junior tournaments. they won again in New Zealand in 1999 becoming the only team to defend successfully both the U17 and U20 world cups and the third team to win the U17 world cup title twice joining Nigeria and Ghana. it was the first time that this tournament was retained. The black starlets of Ghana had an impact reaching five straight semifinals and four consecutive finals, a record. after her four years of absence, Nigeria returned and reached the finals in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001 losing to France, they have been impressive they had beaten the French in their group match and with their semi-finals defeat of Burkina Faso stretching their winning run to 5 matches. it was the second title for Europe. Brazil won in Finland in 2003 reaching five finals from six consecutive editions taking the sole lead with three titles and becoming the first country to win both the U17 and U20 titles in the same year. Nigeria had taken the backseat and did not come out from their group, their worst performance. In the next edition, Brazil the defending champions lost to Mexico in Peru in 2005, the Brazilians were proving to be serial champions at the youth level just like their senior counterparts. They had won three titles from four editions. Multiple champions in all categories, at U20 they have 4 titles (adding another in 2011), 5 at the senior level (apart from the Olympics at that time). sadly, Nigeria did not make it to the tournament in 2005, just a final appearance since that remarkable win in japan. for Mexico, it was their first win in Peru, just like Saudi Arabia had done in Scotland. they became the first from another continent to win creating a balance and making it possible for all the major continents to have a champion. The only world cup category it has happened.

Trends in victory for Nigeria
The twelfth edition in South Korea in 2007 was increased from sixteen participants to twenty-four for the first time and it was hosted in Asia, for those that understand trends it produced a similar champion-Nigeria. All the three times Asia has hosted this event, Nigeria came out victorious winning for the first time in a penalty shootout by defeating Spain after both sides failed to score in 120mins curiously, the Spanish also failed to score a single spot-kick. Macauley Christanus of Nigeria won the golden boot. Apart from the title Nigeria also benefited from this tournament in the future, when Germany had beaten England in the quarter-finals, the talented Victor Moses was in the English ranks, Nigeria stopped Germany with the superb Toni Kroos scoring a consolation goal in the 3-1 loss in the semi-finals, he was the tournament most valuable player adding to a similar award he won in the European championship in 2016 both Kroos and Moses were top scorers in the next edition of the European championship in 2017, the famous German player was part of the 2014 German world cup winning team and at club level formed part of the midfield triumvirate of Casemiro and Modric that helped Real Madrid win the champions league multiple times. in the next edition, Nigeria was hopeful of making it four titles as host in 2009, they had the pedigree, were the defending champions, and had home advantage, they were the obvious favorites after dispatching Spain by three goals to one in the semi-finals but surprisingly fell in the finals to Switzerland, Europe`s three wins were in finals against Nigeria, Sani Emmanuel just like Philip Osondu in Canada won the golden ball he was also tied as top scorer winning the silver shoe. Two years later Mexico became the first host to win the competition, they were level with Ghana on two titles, and Nigeria had failed again to qualify. The next edition was hosted in the United Arab Emirates and history was repeated, Asia had become a golden fortress for Nigeria and they won her fourth title overtaking Brazil as the best at this level, beating Sweden in the semi-finals by three goals to nil and the defending champions Mexico at the finals by the same scoreline their biggest margin win in any finals. Kelechi Ihenacho won the golden ball and the silver shoe, In his club career, he won the league cup with Manchester City in 2016 and helped Leicester win the FA cup in 2021 then at the beginning of the next season, he scored the winning goal in their super cup final victory over his former club Manchester City. the golden eaglets`s team also had Uzoho and Awoniyi. Uzoho was in the senior world cup team for Nigeria in Russia in 2018 and the Omonia shot-stopper received rare reviews for his performance in their Europa League match against Manchester United while Awoniyi scored the winning goal in the defeat of Liverpool by Nottingham Forest. Nigeria was the best team in this tournament with four titles but had a challenge, which was retaining her title and superbly achieved that feat in Chile, the first time they had won away from Asia and also the second country to win back-to-back extending their record to five titles, another Kelechi(Nwakali)retained the golden ball and Victor Oshimen won the silver ball and golden boot becoming the first highest goal scorer to hit double digits(he scored ten goals, still a record)he is currently the most expensive African player after his move from Lille to Napoli in 2020 for E70million. It was also the first time Nigeria had won both individual defeating Mexico to reach the semi-finals they became the first to reach a record eight semi-final appearances, Brazil equaled it in India in 2017 and went on to take sole ownership when they reached it as host in 2019 for the ninth time en route to their fourth title, The golden Eaglets beat the Les Aigles of Mali the African champions in the battle of the Eagles by two unreplied goals just like in their win against the Germans thirty years ago. In the next edition, Nigeria did not qualify and lost in the second round in 2019 to the Dutch with England and then Brazil winning the tournaments respectively. The English became the first European country and the second team to win both youth tournaments in the same year in 2017, they beat Spain by five goals to two and set a goal-scoring record at the finals. Nigeria did not qualify and could not win another title in Asia and Europe did not win the title by defeating Nigeria in the finals, two significant trends in victory had ended.

Unsung heroes

Obi  went on to become a  great man and hero

There is always light at the end of the tunnel. The ultimate objective of any junior player is the transition into his uncompromising potential in its fullness, it surpasses to some extent winning at a tender age which is a bonus. The golden eaglets in spite of their success through the years also had their fair share of disappointment. The boys from the third edition in Scotland were expected to win the tournament and started brightly but lost to Saudi Arabia which at that time was their earliest exit despite this, they produced other players notably Ikpeba and Okpara. In her other quarter-final exit against another Asian team-Oman, they had Obiorah.
In Finland, the team had their worst run failing to reach the knockout stages for only the first time they were knocked out by drawing lots after having the same stats as Costa Rica. The major consolation from this setback was the discovery of one of her finest players Mikel Obi,(Obasi, Vanzekin, and Isaac were also members of that team) he scored in their second match in the win against Australia. He went on to achieve great things. several years later the benefit from the tournament in the future that was highlighted in 2007 became ripe when the senior team won their third African title in 2013, England`s three-goal hero in South Korea, the talented Victor Moses represented Nigeria at the senior level, and helped them to glory and in their decent run in the 2014 world cup in Brazil, for the records his former country England finished bottom of their group and was eliminated in the first round, Nigeria was knocked out by France in the second round while the French were defeated by Germany and Kroos in the quarter-finals and went on to win the world cup. Moses was also at the 2018 world cup scoring against Argentina. The best case of an unsung foreign hero becoming a beneficiary of the excellent scouting process of the National Football Federation.

From teenage stars to senior stars the complete transformation
Nigeria has enjoyed dominance at this level producing players that became global stars at the highest level. They helped in defining history for their national team and individually.
At the U20 world cup which is the next step in their development, Nigeria`s flying eagles reached two finals and finished third with a decent total haul of three medals. In their first final appearance in 1989, they had Ugbade captain of the 1985 winning team in China, and some other players(Nwosu, Abdullahi, Oladimeji, Ikeji, and Osondu) from the silver winning team from Canada. In their second finals, Mikel Obi was outstanding in Nigeria`s performance at the U20 world cup in 2005 finishing as the second-best player behind Messi.

Their major contribution at the national level was at the Super Eagles as the senior national team is called, they reached a peak ranking of fifth in the world which is an African record with several of their U17 players(Ugbade, Ikpeba, )in the team that went on to win the senior African title in 1994. Nigeria became 1994 and 2014 two time African champions at the world cup, a record, and also reached the second round in both, they were also the only afrAfricanam to reach consecutive second-round appearances in 1994 and 1998(they had Ikpeba, Kanu, Oruma, and, Babayaro).In between, They defeated Uzbekistan to win the afro -Asian cup in 1995. a year later, they became the first African gold medalist football team beating star-studded Brazil in the semi-finals and Argentina in the finals in Atlanta 1996. In 2013 Onazi, Omeruo, Obi, and Moses(he scored two goals in their last group match that enabled them to qualify for the knockout round) were in the team that won the African nations cup tournament in South Africa and also played in several world cups. They also won silver in 2008 and bronze (Obi) in 2016 in Brazil making them the most successful African nation at the Olympics.

Kanu the most prominent U17 graduate

King Kanu helped Nigeria dominate this competition

At the club level, they also had success, Kanu (won the champions league with Ajax in 1995)UEFA cup at Inter(1997), domestic titles with Arsenal in England -2 and with Ajax in Holland- 3, Obi (won the champions league with Chelsea in 2012)he also won the Europa league in 2013 with two English titles and several domestic cups. Moses won 2 Europa League titles(2013,2019)1 English title, and 1 FA cup in England with Chelsea and  the  cup in Russia with Spartak Moscow. Chukwueze won the Europa cup with Villarreal in 2021, Ikpeba won the french league with Monaco in the 1996/1997 season with Oruma winning the Ligue one title the following season, Oshimen`s Napoli are currently leading Serie A and they finished top of their champions league group that includes Liverpool and Ajax. he recently came back from injury and scored in their champions league win against Ajax and a wonder goal in their away win against Roma and a hat trick in the four- nil bashing of Sassuolo to consolidate top positions in Italy and Europe. he is the top scorer in Serie A. He is also the highest goal scorer for Nigeria in the Italian league.

Oshimen,He is the leading scorer in serie a

VINA DEL MAR, CHILE – NOVEMBER 08: Victor Osimhen of Nigeria poses with the adidas golden boot after the FIFA U-17 Men’s World Cup 2015 final match between Mali and Nigeria at Estadio Sausalito on November 8, 2015 in Vina del Mar, Chile. (Photo by Martin Rose – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

At the individual level, Kanu has been voted the fifth best player in the world Nigeria’s highest position after helping them win at the Olympics, Ikpeba, and Kanu(he won twice) were African footballers of the year. Obi and Moses were in the team of the tournament in 2013 in AFCON. They also had other laudable achievements. Nigeria had other superstars and wonderful achievements from other tournaments but the U17 competition had given them the most important launch pad to become global football ambassadors. At the coaching level, Ugbade was in the coaching team led by Amunike that won the world cup in UAE in 2013. The future is indeed promising for more success.

What we can learn from the golden eaglets
⦁ Nigeria has helped to establish Africa as a football superpower at the youth level.
⦁ Nigeria`s four titles in Asia are a benchmark for understanding about trends in victory.
⦁ In four of Nigeria`s five final victories, they have won without conceding a goal even in their penalty shoot-out win against Spain.
⦁ They have won all their eight semifinal matches maintaining a 100% record the best in this and in all FIFA organized Tournaments another trend in victory.

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