Five lessons from Nigeria’s outing at the Caf U17 Championship

In the wake of the Golden Eaglets' second place finish in Morocco, these are some thlessons to take home as preparation for the Fifa U17 Championships are set to begin


By Shina Oludare

The 10th Caf U17 Championship came to a close with Cote d’Ivoire winning her first cadet tournament trophy since inception. The Ivorians though found it hard to cutail Nigeria’s top quality passing but were fortunate to emerge winners via penalty shootout.

The competition provided action-packed drama and produced entertaining football for more two weeks. Here is a list of five things we have learned from the Golden Eaglets' performance in the competition that was held in Morocco.

Isaac Success is Eaglets' main man

Before Nigeria took to the field for their Group B opener against Ghana in what was tagged a clash of the titans, not many knew this skilful Nigerian till he wreaked havoc against the Black Starlets. After finding the back of the net four times, though he couldn’t get a goal in the next game where they lost to the Baby Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, he was a thorn in the flesh of defenders.

Garba Manu did look excited to throw strikers on the pitch when the situation demanded them, as in the game against Congo and latter half of the game against Tunisia, when Kelechi Iheanacho and Isaac Success kept tormenting defenders. One thing was certain throughout the tournament, it was clear that Manu felt more relaxed starting with Success up-front.

Nigeria's goals in the semi final came via the attacking move of this goal getter who was defenders' nightmare. This young lad, apart from being a fantastic box to box striker, also proved he is an excellent penalty taker, typical of modern day strikers, scoring all the spot kicks that came his way throughout the championship.

His proficiency in front of goal was rewarded when he claimed the golden boot award with seven goals in five matches. Success will have a major role to play in the team at the Fifa U17 World Cup to be staged in UAE.

Defence needs urgent attention

While Nigeria was ruthless in front of goal and possession play showed marked improvement, there is still cause for concern in defence. It is remarkable how easily the back four is exposed by long passes hit into the space behind them – Bile Bedia, Niangbo and Ben Salem exploited this deficiency in Marrakech. The Eaglets become jittery and short of ideas when opposition turns the heat on them.

The four goals conceded were uncalled for and could have been curbed if the back line were more organised especially when caught on a counter. The flaw comes down to a combination of a lack of pressing in midfield and perhaps something of a shortage of pace at centre-back.

In terms of personnel, too, Manu has loads of work to do given the fact that two of his reliable defenders were disqualified from playing in this competition due to age discrepancies. Though Izu Omego may have established himself as first-choice in the centre, given the exit of Wilfred Ndidi and Ibrahim Abdullahi in the face of MRI brouhaha, the technical crew still needs to shop for more defenders to serve as cover for goalkeeper Adewale Adeyinka who has a share of the blame.

Different tactics for different games
It is general belief that whenever a team loses, they adopt an approach they are totally unsuited to. But Cote d’Ivoire showed us how it can help if the team plays to its strengths and the results were positive.

Nigeria used their biggest strength, their attack to best effect and pounced on opposing teams with basketful of goals scored. Their fluid passing game was key to their performance in this edition, but would have done better if they had changed their tactics when playing the hard-tackling Ivorians who were relatively stronger than the Golden Eaglets.

The Eaglets, in getting to the final, largely had their long passing game to thank. It was their strength, the centre of control and Garba Manu made sure throughout that regardless of the system (he used 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 ). In the final, he employed Isaac Success as the main cog again, a plan that heavily backfired – Nigeria was overpowered for the tournament in the final thanks to their opponent who neutralised their attacking strength.

Golden Eaglets need psychologists

Lack of composure cost Eaglets the crown against the Baby Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. The Nigerians seem to be unreliable in their approach for the larger part of the game which resulted in the unnecessary red card picked by Izu Omego at a very crucial moment. His unwarranted sending off could be as a resulte of the loss to the same opponent in the group stage propelling the Eaglets to come for a revenge mission which led him to make such an erratic tackle.

During the game, the psychological impact of the defeat was boldly written all over the players and the technical crew should have calmed their nerves, an action that would have given them confidence.

Another instance of psychological trauma was evident during the penalty shoot out when Chidiebere Nwakali played the worst kick of the night. Well, who knows what he was thinking about? His kick was too laid-back not minding the magnitude of the responsibility on his shoulder. As the World Cup draws near, drafting of more psychological hands will be a big plus if the team hopes to do well on the world stage.

Garba Manu remains the man to lead

His title miss in Morocco might have caused him setbacks due to his wards' explosive performance during the pre-tournament games, Garba Manu has shown he remains the best man to tinker the Golden Eaglets even as the World U17 Championship draws closer. The soft spoken coach has shown he knows his players very well as he has masterminded a tactical switch that turned their individual brilliance to a well knitted unit, a testimony for their twenty seven match unbeaten streak and scoring more than 127 goals in the process.

Though he has been unable to win the third African crown for Nigeria, the Golden Eaglets’ coach has fulfilled his words, which is to take the nation to the 2013 Fifa U17 World Cup.

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