By AKINWUMI OJO
THEIR potentials were never in doubt and its unsurprising that the Golden Eaglets are mixing it with the best teams at the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
Despite arriving in Chile as last among the four African representatives, the cadet team have been more sure footed than the three sides that were on the medal podium in the CAF qualifiers months back.
Whilst, other African teams have struggled to cope with the standard of the competition and exhibiting a rasping big tournament fragility African teams usually put up in global tournaments, the Golden Eaglets simply continued where their predecessors stopped two years ago. Roller coasting to victories and catching the eye with their free-flowing football. They, alongside South Korea became the first sides in Chile to make it out of the group phase.
The duo of South Africa and Guinea– second and third respectively in the CAF qualifiers have not been so fortunate. The two sides could gave qualification for the next round their best shot but apparently lacked the required quality to survive in the tournament.
Mali popped up in Chile as African champions and have joined the Golden Eaglets in igniting the competition wit their energy any and skills.
So far, the West Africans have demonstrated that they are in Chile to make a point, they went into last weekend’s quarter final games having finished top of their first round group and on the back of a 3-0 romp over Korea DPR.
The Golden Eaglets also have not been shorn of confidence. The Nigerians scored an impressive 7 goals and conceded just one in their first two games. With such near pristine performance and record in the tournament became the bookmakers standout favourites for the title again until they were brought back to earth with a thud as Croatia hammered them 3-1 in their last group game.
Indeed, the setback has been the elixir for the overconfidence that must have been brewing in the team and that must have been crucial to their improved performance in the round of 16 against Australia which they won convincingly 6-0.
There are still very dodgy bends to navigate before the curtains are drawn on the competition but in the end however, the two high Flying might fall short of the expectations of majority of their country back home.
However, while winning remains the creed of these expectant fans, the more discerning ones reckon the innate skills demonstrated by the likes of Amadou Haidara and Sidiki Maiga for Mali and Nwakali, John Isimehi and Kingsley Law shows that the future is still bright for African football.
However, that will depend largely on how these countries can build on the success that has been exhibited here, that was a rarity in the past.
Meanwhile, with their massive prospects, the Eaglets hotels and training grounds have been a beehive of activities. Scouts of various European clubs have been swarming around the team with a bid to make contacts with players that have caught their fancies.
The team’s captain, Nwakali even before the arrival of the team in Chile has been the subject of intense interest from several clubs.
Super rich English club, Manchester City were said to be in the race for the signature of the 16-year-old and that was confirmed with one of their scouts spotted in the stands each time the Golden Eaglets have been in action.
There are also talks that their premiership rivals, West Ham are also on his trails after dispatching one of their own scout to follow their interest in the player.
Osimehi, who has caught the eye with striking abilities belying his age has also been the cynosure of all eyes and the Eaglets camp are having a torrid time warding off desperate scouts trying to reach out to the striker.
Kelechi Iheanacho and a host of the members of the 2013 class of the Golden Eaglets are now on the cards of several European clubs following their effervescent performances in the last edition of the competition in UAE.