There is very healthy rivalry between two powerful World Champions and record breakers, the Golden Eaglets of 2013 and the Golden Eaglets of 2015.
Super Eagles coach, Jose Pereiro does not know this much. His exclusion of Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi may not mean much to uninformed football followers. The presence of Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze is exciting.
In 2013, the Eaglets won a fourth FIFA Under 17 world title in the United Arab Emirates. The team scored 26 goals in the competition to create a new record as the highest scoring team of the Championships.
Iheanacho became the first Nigerian to score four goals in a FIFA competition. This he achieved in the 6-1 demolition of Mexico in their Group F.
The 2013 Eaglets were free scoring. Iheanacho was voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) and added the Silver Boot to his Golden Ball, with six goals. Awoniyi bagged four goals just like Musa Yahaya.
The duo of Musa Mohammed and Success Isaac got three goals each. Chidiebere Nwakali scored twice, so did Samuel Okon. Chidera Eze and Chigozie Obasi scored one each.
Goalkeeper Dele Alampasu won the Golden Gloves as Keeper of the Tournament. The Eaglets also returned with the FIFA Fair Play Award.
It was the first time the Eaglets would beat a team that played in the same group with them, in the grand finale.
In 1987, they lost to the Soviet Union through penalty kicks in the final after drawing 1-1 in one of their group matches. In 2001, Eaglets defeated France 2-1 in their group match but lost 3-0 to the same team in the final.
The story changed in 2013. Nigeria trounced Mexico 6-1 in the group match. The Mexicans lost again, 3-0 in the grand finale. Another group opponents, Sweden, who escaped with a 3-3 draw, got battered 3-0 in the semi finals by the Eaglets.
The 2015 Eaglets, apart from being world champions, had another thing in common with Eaglets 2013. There was a Nwakali, this time Kelechi. The 2013 Eaglets also had Kelechi (Iheanacho). Kelechi Iheanacho won Golden Ball in 2013. Kelechi Nwakali grabbed Golden Ball in 2015.
Victor Osimhen became the first in the History of the tournament to score 10 goals. Unlike Iheanacho, he did not score four goals in one match. His best was a hattrick in the 6-0 drubbing of Australia.
Give it to Osimhen. He became the only Nigerian to have scored in all matches in a FIFA competition, from the first group game to the grand finale.
Osimhen scored against the United States, he did it against Chile, earning a brace. The striker moved on with a goal against Croatia, three against Australia, and more goals against Brazil, Mexico and Mali respectively.
At the end of the Championships, Osimhen won the Golden Boot with ten goals. He also won the Silver Ball. Kelechi Nwakali was voted MVP. That remains the only time Nigeria grabbed the trophy, the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball.
Samuel Chukwueze picked the bronze boot with three goals. Initially, it was awarded to Nwakali but changed by FIFA in December 2013 when it was discovered that Chukwueze scored all his goals, playing for 535 minutes while Nwakali’s three goals came after 630 minutes.
The 2015 Eagles were the only of the five Nigerian Under 17 World Champions that lost a match and still went ahead to win the trophy. They were beaten 2-1 by Croatia in their Group A duel.
It was also the first time the Eaglets would become world champions outside Asia. They won in China in 1985, Japan, 1993, South Korea, 2007 and UAE 2013. The 2015 victory came in Chile.
The 2013 Eaglets have an edge in terms of progression. Through Iheanacho, they registered presence in the World Cup. The Leicester City player was at Russia 2018. Chukwueze and Osimhen are yet to feel the Mundial.
Chukwueze and Osimhen played at the African Nations Cup in 2017. Kelechi Nwakali debuted in 2021( read 2022). Kelechi Iheanacho featured in the African Nations Cup at the same time as his namesake. That was also Awoniyi’s debut.
Peseiro has led the Super Eagles in four games, leaving out the 2013 Eaglets pair of Iheanacho and Awoniyi. He has used the duo of Osimhen and Chukwueze and the goals are coming.
However, I have a feeling that the door is not shut yet. Iheanacho has a way of playing himself back to the team. Awoniyi’s move to England from Germany should ignite interest.
Peseiro is lucky to have a pool of deadly strikers at his disposal. Beyond Osimhen and Ademola Lukman, it will pay to bring in Iheanacho and Awoniyi. An admixture of 2013 Eaglets and their 2015 successors will help the game.
The Eaglets are having a field day. Nduka Ugbade, who captained the 1985 team to glory is doing well with the 2022 squad. He missed the opportunity of being the first to play as Under 17, Under 20 and Senior player in FIFA championships.
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With China ’85 gold in the Under 17 and Saudi ’89 silver in the Under 20, Clemens Westerhof refused to bow to sentiments and pressure. Ugbade won African Nations Cup gold with the Super Eagles but could not make the USA ’94 World Cup team.
Perhaps the most decorated Eaglets should be the 1993 squad. They won the FIFA Championships and Wilson Oruma took the Golden Boot with six goals. Nwankwo Kanu who got a hattrick in the 8-0 massacre of Japan finished with five goals.
Kanu, Oruma, Celestine Babayaro and Mobi Oparaku advanced to win an Olympic gold medal in 1996. Kanu was European champion in 1995 with Ajax and voted African Footballer of the year twice. The quartet played at the World Cup and none of them lifted the African Nations Cup.
The 2007 Golden Eaglets tasted Mundial action through Haruna Lukman. Not much in terms of achievement followed individual players.
Golden Eaglets, grand finalists in 1987 and again in 2009, got laurels too. Phillip Osondu became the first Eaglet to score a World Championships hattrick when Nigeria beat Bolivia 3-2 in St. John’s, New Foundland at Canada ’87.
Osondu also took away the Golden Ball. That was also the lot of Emmanuel Sani in 2009. The 1987 Eaglets were awarded the Fair Play trophy. What they could not achieve – retain the trophy – was done in 2015 by Osimhen and his group.
Peseiro has been following Nigerian football from time ‘Imo River’. We want him to make the best use of this healthy Eaglets rivalry.