Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets may have suffered a heart-breaking exit at the quarterfinal stage of the on-going U-17 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Algeria, but there is light at the end of the tunnel according to former World Cup winning coach of the team, Emmanuel Amuneke.
The Nduka Ugbade led team were eliminated by Burkina Faso 2-1 and failed to qualify to play at the forth coming U17 World Cup finals later this year.
The result left many Nigerians disappointed and recently, some ball fans have been calling on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to sack the coaching crew.
However, Amuneke who led the team to win at the tournament in Chile in 2015 and was an assistant to coach Garba Manu at the 2013 edition in United Arab Emirates (UAE), insisted that the young lads did their best but were unlucky not to get the desired results.
“We must collectively salute the players and the coaching crew for doing a good job but were unfortunate not to qualify for the finals.
“We cannot afford to let them go just like that because we must erase the tag ‘failure’ from their history. It has become a tradition anytime our age-group team fails to win at a major event.
“The players are disappointed in themselves knowing fully well that its an opportunity to launch their career on the big stage. Now, all that have vanished due to ill luck. However, I can see them (players) doing well if we make conscious efforts to integrate them in the domestic league at lower cadre instead of allowing them to vanish into thin air,” he remarked.
The former ‘African Footballer of the Year’ noted that in 2003 squad to Finland did not go beyond group phase under Coach Augustine Eguavoen but the likes of John Obi Mikel, Chinedu Obasi, Isaac Promise and Ambrose Uanzekin were able to reach the Olympics and Super Eagles level.
“We must engage ourselves in a long-term programme that will ensure the boys are injected into the domestic league clubs and as well as take cognizance of their educational growth which is a global standard today.
“As for the coaching crew, it’s unfortunate what has happened to them but as for me, they did their best. It takes a good coach (Ugbade) to be patient with the players for making simple errors which was natural of players of the Eaglets age.
“I was once in same situation and you have to keep lecturing, develop and ensure proper growth. Unfortunately, as a coach, someone must pay the price because players’ agents will infiltrate the camp and for obvious reason and when the final selection did not go their way, all they wish is for the team to fail. But a good coach should just stay focused and damn the consequence.
“At any given time, our system is warped towards immediate results instead of long-term planning and as a coach you make friends and enemy as same time but what is important is to stick to the plans,” he pointed out in a telephone interview with THISDAY.
He also recalled his experience as the coach of U-20 team that failed to qualify for the U20 AFCON tournament after they were defeated on aggregate by Niger Republic.
“Aside the core group of boys that won the 2015 tournament in Chile, some of the players that did not make the final selection of the tournament in Chile from our Calabar camp were invited. Unfortunately, the result did not go our way on a wet evening at Teslim Balogun Stadium.
“I watched the players wept openly in the dressing room and took time to console them because it was a great opportunity to elevate their career. But today, I am happy that the likes of Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Nwakali and many others in that squad moved beyond that stage to become big stars in Europe,” Amuneke recalled.
The on-going tournament U17 AFCON in Algeria will end on Sunday with the final match between Senegal and Morocco.
Although the Nigerian lads suffered a similar 1-0 loss to Morocco in their second match, they bounced back with an impressive 3-2 triumph over South Africa in their final Group B encounter.
The five-time world champions, however, came short against Burkina Faso in the quarterfinals to miss out on a ticket to the FIFA U17 World Cup later in the year.