Eaglets battle Sweden for final ticket
“All my life, I have never entertained any fear and I don’t even know what fear means,” Manu said at the pre-match conference. “Of course, I know that whatever happens is ordained by God, so I have no fear about Sweden.”
When the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup kicked off in the UAE on October 17, the Nigerian team were undoubtedly among the competition’s favourites because of the country’s rich football history, especially at this level.
They had won the competition in 1985, 1993 and 2007 and emerged runners-up in 1987, 2001 and 2009. But now, the Golden Eaglets’ fourth title aspiration seems tied to how strong they can be against Sweden — their second meeting since the competition began.
They had met in a Group F encounter which ended 3-3 on October 22, a match the Nigerian side described as their most testing group match.
They had to draw level after going two goals down by the 20th minute, and they still had to come from behind to pick a point from the match with nine minutes to go. Today, however, the Eaglets have to do better as they have more at stake.
In this their seventh semi-final appearance, the Eaglets have a handful to prove against a Swedish team making their debut in the competition. So far, the Nigerians have proven their strength with 20 goals while conceding five in four wins and one draw so far. The Swedes have scored 11 goals and conceded 7, from three wins, one draw and one loss.
However, one player the Nigerian team should be wary of is Valmir Berisha who got a brace in their Group F meeting. Berisha, a lofty Swedish striker, has been instrumental in his side’s progress at the competition.
But in Success Isaac and Musa Yahaya, scorers against Sweden earlier, as well as Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Musa Mohammed, the Eaglets seem to be up to the task.
As it is, both teams would have to do without one player each — Sweden’s Viktor Nordin and Nigeria’s Akinjide Idowu — due to suspension.
Looking ahead to the match, Nigeria’s goalkeeper Dele Alampasu who has conceded five goals, with three of them against Sweden, said he has learnt his lessons.
He told the News Agency of Nigeria, “I wasn’t myself then. I messed up coming off my line for the first goal and that weighed on me afterwards. I was a bit lost after the first goal and before I could get myself back in the game, I was called on again and everything went wrong.
“But, I thank God I got over it against Iraq when we won 5-0 and I won’t make the same mistakes against Sweden. I’ve learnt my lesson.”
Nigerians are hoping to see the Eaglets play the final match on Friday.