By Duro Ikhazuagbe
Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets preparations for next month’s Under-17 AFCON qualifiers in Benin Republic has run into troubled waters as 40 of the 60 players penciled to prosecute the tournament have failed the mandatory MRI age test barely three weeks to the tournament.
This development, THISDAY learnt has thrown the team’s coaching crew led by Fatai Amoo into deep crisis with just three weeks to select a brand new squad to fly the country’s flag at the WAFU B qualifiers scheduled to begin on January 5.
Only 20 players passed the mandatory tests. Out of these players only five of them are in the main team with only two in Amoo’s preferred starting line up.
“From what I gathered, 40 of the 60 players who did the MRI test failed and they were mainly the players the coach was seriously banking on for the competition,” a top source told SCORENigeria.com
Some of the affected players include even those from the national U16 team, who featured at an invitational tournament in Japan last year.
They will now have to pack out of the team’s hotel in Abuja and head home completely devastated after their hopes were dashed.
This will not be the first time the Eaglets have suffered such setback as the country does not have a credible database of junior players just as the desperation for players, parents and agents to get their wards into the national team at this level of the game has led to age-cheating.
Sources at the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) hinted that it was to avoid Nigeria being embarrassed at major tournaments that it pegged Grade 1- 4 as the benchmark for the age test to ensure registered players are not disqualified to lead to the disqualification of the entire team by CAF.
“With CAF’s new rule, once a player or two is disqualified in a team, the entire squad is knocked out of the competition. This I believe is what the NFF is trying to avoid from happening to Golden Eaglets,” observed the credible source.
It was also learnt that there have been strident calls for Grade 5 to be accepted as the benchmark as was the case previously.
Some of the country’s top stars like Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze and Kelechi Iheanacho used the U17s as a springboard for lucrative transfers overseas.
Earlier, the country’s top Stars like Victor Ikpeba, Nwankwo Kanu, Celestine Babayaro and a host of others similarly used the cadet competition to raise to stardom.
Golden Eaglets are drawn in Group B of the U17 qualifiers along with rivals Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
The two finalists of the tournament will advance to the U17 AFCON final tournament.