The Flying Eagles are yet to win a World Youth Championship and in fact, no other African country has been able to replicate the 2009 Ghanaian U20 side, which went against all odds to clinch the FIFA U20 World Cup title in Egypt, beating Brazil in the final.
Although the Flying Eagles have finished runners-up on two occasions, the first in Saudi Arabia’89 and the last being at Holland 2005 when the John Obi Mikel led team finished second to a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina side, Nigeria are yet to lay their hands on the trophy despite being a 5-time FIFA U17 World champions.
However, this year in Poland, Nigeria will have another opportunity at the U20 World Cup trophy after missing the 2017 edition hosted by South Korea and while the team led by Coach Paul Aigbogun were not convincing at the CAF U20 championship held in Niger in February, they have been handed a relatively easy group for the championship.
The team were placed in Group D alongside Qatar, United States of America and Ukraine in a draw that is fair enough. Furthermore, with 2017 champions England, Germany, Brazil and Spain missing out on qualification, this may just be the best opportunity for the Flying Eagles to lift the trophy.
In this write-up, we X-RAY the opponents Nigeria will be facing in the group stages
Last Appearance: New Zealand 2015
Best Performance: Australia 1981 (Runners Up)
Coach: Felix Sanchez Baz (Spanish)
The nation which recently won the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates in February are currently on a meteoric rise in the nation’s football as they continue to prepare to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. While the country’s main team is different from the U-20 side, they will, however, get tactical input Felix Sanchez who is the Coach of the Qatar national team and also doubles as the coach of the U20 side. such can’t be treated with kids’ gloves.
Poland 2019 will make it their 4th FIFA U20 World Cup appearance, the latest being in 2015, they ended the bottom of their group, recording 3 losses in 3 Group C games against Senegal, Portugal and Colombia. Their first appearance was in New Zealand 1981 where they finished second behind champions West Germany, their best result so far.
They also featured as host in 1995. The tournament was originally scheduled to be held in Nigeria but Due to a meningitis outbreak was moved to Doha Qatar, finishing bottom of their group with 1 point from games against Syria, Russia and Brazil.
Qatar qualified for Poland 2019 U20 World Cup through the AFC U19 championship held in Indonesia in 2018 reaching the Semi-finals after topping their group. The team strength lies in its goalscoring abilities underlined by the team’s striker Abdulrasheed Umar who finished top of the goalscorers chats with 7 goals.
The team scored 18 goals in 5 games as well as been involved in some of the tournament’s high scoring matches, a 6-5 win over Indonesia in the group stages followed with a 7-3 extra time victory over Thailand in the quarter-final. While they are good at scoring goals their results also suggest that they could be porous at the back conceding 13 goals in 5 matches with 7 coming at the group stages and 6 in two knockout stage matches.
The flying eagles may be in for an interesting matchup in the opening fixture if they can bury their chances but must be wary of the threat the Asian posses going forward and with the team coached by Felix Sanchez, a Spaniard who horned his coaching skill with the Barcelona youth team from 1996 till 2006.
Star To Watch: Abdulrasheed Umar
The AS Eupen forward finished as the highest goalscorer at the 2018 AFC U19 championship with 7 goals and will definitely be one of the first name on the list of players to be on the plane to Poland and as well as the major threat the Asians may possess against Nigeria.
Last Appearance: New Zealand 2015
Best Performance: R16 (2001, 2005, 2015)
Coach: Oleksandr Vasylyovych Petrakov (Ukrainian)
The Europeans are expected to be of little problems for the Flying Eagles as they have a small pedigree when it comes to youth football. Their first U20 world cup appearance came Argentina 2001 and since then they have added 3 more successful qualifications with this year’s edition being their 4th appearance.
However, despite not being a powerhouse when it comes to youth football, they have managed to progress to the Round of 16 in each of their previous outings. In fact at Holland 2005, they have eliminated 1-0 by Nigeria courtesy of a Taye Taiwo’s long-range strike which was incidentally the last time both sides met.
Ukraine qualified for Poland 2019 U20 World Cup through the UEFA U19 championship where the were knocked out at the semi-final stage by eventual winners Portugal and they topped a group which had France, current U20 world cup champions England and Turkey.
Star to Watch: Vitaliy Mykolenko
The Dynamo Kyiv defender may prove to be a thorn in the flesh for Nigerian players when they face off in Bielsko Biala. He has so far made 17 appearances in the Ukrainian league since breaking through into the Dynamo Kyiv first team
3. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA)
Last Appearance: South Korea 2017
Best Appearance: Saudi Arabia 1989 (4th place)
Coach: Tab Ramos (US)
The young Stars and Stripes have only missed 6 editions of the 22 FIFA U20 championship, however, despite their frequent appearances, the North Americans have only appeared in the Semi-finals once in 1989 where they faced Nigeria and lost, finishing fourth behind Brazil who beat them to the third place.
Ten times they have managed to escape the group stages and are expected to make it out of the group once more. At the last edition in South Korea 2017, they made it to the quarter-finals and are tricky opponents who Paul Aigbogun and his boys must be careful of.
They successfully hosted and won the 2018 CONCACAF U20 champions beating Mexico to their 2nd title consecutive title. The team played 5 games scoring 41 goals and conceding just 2 although the stats can barely be taken seriously considering the nature of the opponents faced, which includes
the likes of Suriname, U.S Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico as well as Saint Vicente and the Grenadines.
Star to Watch: Alex Mendez
The 18-year old plays his club football for Sc Freiburg and although he is yet to make a competitive appearance, he made his mark at the 2018 CONCACAF U20 Championship after being named as the tournament’s best player. The midfielder will be pivotal to his team’s efforts towards a successful outing in Poland
While Nigeria’s group may look easy on the eye, a thorough analysis of the teams in the group suggest otherwise and imply a tricky series of fixtures that may produce mixed results. A high scoring Asian team, a Continental Champion and a European team that can not be underestimated, Paul Aigbogun definitely have his hands full
And with the unimpressive showing of the Flying Eagles at the 2019 u20 AFCON in Niger earlier in February, a lot has to be done and the best legs must be gathered if the team is to make any meaningful impact at the tournament which they missed out on in 2017.