By Kunle Adewale
The football rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana will again be rekindled as the Golden Eaglets take on the Black Starlets in the final of the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations WAFU qualification this evening at the Stade General Seyni Kountche, Niamey.
Both West African giants of world cadet football clash in the final of the CAF U-17 Cup of Nations WAFU B Tournament with the lone ticket to the Africa U-17 Cup of Nations Tanzania 2019 to serve as the spur for an explosive encounter.
The atmosphere will be further charged by a 67-year rivalry between both nations, with crucial wins for either country over the decades. But the Eaglets are encouraged that Ghana’s semi-final victims Cote d’Ivoire, suffered a 5-1 hiding when both teams met at the same venue last week.
Nigeria would be further buoyed by the maturity that comes with a plurality of experience, having come from a shaky start to the tournament to reach the final battle. They fell behind 0-2 to Burkina Faso in their opening match before drawing level, only to lose the tie by conceding late in the game. Against the Ivorians, they fired from all cylinders from the beginning and led 5-0, and against Niger Republic on Wednesday, created a hatful of chances and led 2-0 before conceding a late consolation to the hosts.
Meanwhile, President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick has charged the Golden Eaglets to keep level heads and stay focused in order to conquer Ghana’s Black Starlets and qualify for the finals of the 2019 Africa U-17 Cup of Nations.
Pinnick, who is also 1st Vice President of the Confederation of African Football, is in no doubt that the Nigerian boys possess the quality to defeat the Black Starlets and also do the nation proud at the final tournament in Tanzania.
“First, I want to congratulate you on a job well done so far; you have done very well including exhibiting the never-say-die spirit that is peculiar to Nigerians. This was visible in the manner you bounced back after the loss to the Burkinabes to dismiss the Ivorians 5-1, and also beat the host nation in the semi finals.
“But I want you to know that the job is not done yet. You must stay focused and listen to your coaches. I believe in their leadership because they are very knowledgeable and experienced and have discovered so many talented players that have excelled in recent years,” Pinnick said.
Speaking further, the NFF supremo advised the young lads to avoid distractions from agents, who according to him, will deceive and hurry them into signing for clubs that would not aid their proper development.
“The youth tournaments are basically developmental, so you have to follow instructions from your coaches and don’t allow agents to deceive you and make you sign for clubs in obscure countries. Players like Nwankwo Kanu and Mikel John Obi, just to mention two, started properly and so were properly developed to stay longer in the game.”
Pinnick then promised to take the team for a training tour in either Qatar or Jordan ahead of the U-17 AFCON in Tanzania to further help their development, once they qualify.
Five players from the NFF U-15 squad discovered during the annual NFF/Zenith Bank Future Eagles Championship, are part of the current squad tutored by Manu Garba.
Responding on behalf of the team, goalkeeper Joseph Oluwabusola thanked the Nigeria Football Federation for the support so far and promised that they will make Nigeria proud on Saturday by defeating the Black Starlets to qualify for the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Tanzania.
However, the Black Starlets have been handed a massive boost ahead of the encounter as defender Abdul Samed declares himself fit for the clash. Samed’s arm was heavily strapped after Ghana’s epic 2-1 win over Ivory Coast in the first semi-final clash on Wednesday.
The Dreams FC defender has played every single minute of Ghana’s campaign at the tournament being staged in Niger to emphasise his importance to the side.
Losing him ahead of the final match against rivals Nigeria was bound to deal a heavy blow to coach Karim Zito’s team, but the left-back says he is well enough to play.
“I felt some pains in my arm but this morning the pain is no more. I think if it continues like this, I will be ready to play in the final,” he told FootballmadeinGhana.com.
The winner of the final match will qualify to play at next year’s Africa U-17 Championship to be hosted by Tanzania.