Today, at the Stade Général S. K., Niamey, the Golden Eaglets will file out against their South African counterparts, the Amajimbos in the first semi final of the CAF U-17 championships.
Nigeria topped Group A with seven points, while South Africa finished runners-up from Group B with five points. Their last meeting at this level was in 2005 when it ended 2-2.
Although both teams have secured their tickets to the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup billed for Chile later in the year, the battle for the continental title would definitely be the motivation for today’s duel beginning 4pm, Nigerian time.
The weight of Nigeria’s ambition will be squarely placed on the tiny shoulders of a teenage sensation, Kelechi Nwakali. He is captain of the U-17 national team, the Golden Eaglets and has piloted their dream in Niger to a near perfect run, so far. His exploits in Niger have been quite outstanding that coach Emmanuel Amuneke described him as “a gift from God to Nigeria.”
The Eaglets skipper Nwakali Kelechi is joint leading scorer so far with three goals, and has bagged two man-of-the-match awards out of three matches the Eaglets have featured in. He is expected to remain pivotal with his solid midfield displays.
Nwakali who has attracted scouts from all over Europe would not talk much on today’s encounter but simply said, “let the ball do the talking. We want to win because we want the trophy.”
He comes up against the enterprising skills of Amajimbos captain Nelson Maluleke whose excellent foot-work and knack for goals has been influential for a South African side that started slowly but has grown in stature and confidence as the games unfolded.
Nwakali will not be alone in Nigeria’s quest for glory in Niamey. Gangling Eaglets striker Victor Osimhen James who is also a joint top scorer in the tournament with three goals has vowed not to rest until the trophy is brought home to Abuja. He told reporters in Niamey that it will be a total waste should he emerge highest goal scorer without winning the trophy.
Coach Emmanuel Amuneke has already assured that the Eaglets will not take their opponents for granted. “We will not treat them with kid gloves. The South Africans play as a team that likes to fight back when they are down. They also have some top quality players.”
“But we have to find a way to contain. If we can play our own game, it would become much easier for us and it is our hope that our boys would be in the right frame of mind and be able to carry out the task.”