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Calabar Bubbles As Eaglets Hosts KoreaU-17 World Cup Q/Final

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Calabar, the Cross Rivers State Capital, is currently bubbing as the U.J. Esuene Stadium today hosts the crucial quarter final match between Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets and their Korean counterparts by 7.00 pm local time, in one of the two matches scheduled for today at the on-going FIFA Under – 17 World Cup.

Spain will take on Uruguary in the other match.

Before leaving her Abuja base for the encounter, the Eaglets coach, John Obuh had expressed confidence and assured Nigerians that his boys would not only beat the Asians, but also retain the trophy they won two years ago in Korea.

The question on the minds of close watchers is whether they can really do it, following their performances in this 13th edition of the championship?

It was a shaky start for the Nigerians, they had to come from three goals down against Germany to end the game at 3-3 with such fighting back spirit and determination that deserves commendation and encouragement.

They struggled to beat Honduras 1-0 in their second match in which but for poor marksmanship, they would have won by a wider goal margin. The Eaglets faced the same problem in their last group match against the Argentines who they beat 2-1, but one sure thing was that their pattern of play improved with each match.

With six points, the baby Eagles emerged winners of their group and so staged back in Abuja to host New Zealand, which had been quite impressive in their own group, beating world powers, Brazil on their way to the last 16 stage.

It was thus surprising that the Europeans fell by a whoopping 5-0 to the Eaglets at the end of 90 minutes, but not only did their coach accept the defeat, it was glaring that New Zealand was no match for the Nigerians as the defending champions dominated the game from start to finish, with an apparent hunger for goals all through.

It thus did not require a soothsayer to say that this final set of Eaglets were ready to fly really high to the apex of the championship.

Home advantage may also be an added advanatage for the Eaglets, though some sports analyst say it does not really matter when it comes to competitions like this.

Contrarily , this is not totally correct, when one considers, for instance, that England won their only World Cup when they hosted the world in 1966. South Korea, which is not recognised as a football power played semifinal when the country hosted in 2002.

Also, little known Burkina Faso, before now went as far as the semifinals of the Africa Nations Cup as host in 1998. So, it would still be a courage to the Eaglets playing on their soil.

Besides, records have also shown that Nigeria is the second best to Brazil globally and the best in Africa when it comes to football at this level having won the trophy three times, all in Asian countries, (1985 in China, 1993 in Japan and 2007 in Korea). The Eaglets were also semi finalists in 1987 and have played in several quarterfinals.

On paper, it is easy to give today’s match to the Eaglets, but modern football has gone beyond big names and the days of underdogs. Ask France what little known Senegal did to them in their opening match at the Japan/Korea 2002 World Cup as defending champions.

The Koreans have also proved that they are not on a jamboree in this World Cup judging by the manner in which they sailed through the group stage, capping their effort with a 5-3 win over more favoured Mexcio via penalty  shoot-out after full and extra time ended 1-1 at the group of 16 stage.

Moreover, coach of the Koreans, Kwang Jong Lee, has declared that his team has resolved to give Nigeria the fight of their life.

“Having come this far, my team cannot afford to allow themselves to be cowed by any team, no matter how highly rated and favoured.”

No doubt today’s game promises to be explosive and thrilling knowing that the Koreans also have the never give-up spirit in them, as well as determination and good teamwork which they have demonstrated in their previous games.

But 90 minutes, or, at worst, 120 minutes must determine a victor and a vanquished. Just as Nigerians would be backing the Eaglets all the way, the Koreans will have same, albeit in a less physical manner.

One thing is, however, certain, players of both teams will be prepared to do anything to be in the semi- final.

 

Tonye Orabere

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European Clubs Distasteful, Disrespectful Over Afcon – Ikeme

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Former Nigeria goalkeeper Carl Ikeme has described the reaction of European clubs to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations as distasteful.
Ikeme, who made 10 appearances for the Super Eagles before his early retirement in 2018, weighed in on the issue of releasing players for the tournament during the European season and he described it as disrespectful to African football.
The former Wolverhampton Wanderers star believes the foremost African football competition is just as important as the European Championship and that players derive joy in representing their countries in a major event like Afcon.
“I don’t think it is professional, I think it is distasteful. I don’t think it helps the reputation of African football, I think it is disrespectful,” Ikeme told Tidesports source.
“Whether you are playing for England, Spain, Nigeria or Egypt, there is no difference. These players find pride in wearing their national team jerseys.
“When I was playing, it was the biggest honour I had in my career, playing for my national team and nothing can be compared to it.
“To think any player who is looking at Afcon as a burden is wrong because they love representing their countries, as you can see when Iheanacho scored Nigeria’s goal against Egypt, how Nigerians in Cameroon celebrated.

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AFCON 2021: ‘Good Times Are Back For Nigeria’

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Good times are back for the Super Eagles declared Nigerian legend Jay Jay Okocha after the team wrapped-up their Group D campaign with a perfect record on Wednesday.
Nigeria made it three-out-of-three following a 2-0 win over Guinea Bissau on Wednesday to see the two-time AFCON champions march on to the last 16 with a 100 percent record after topping Group D on 9 points, scoring 6 goals and conceding just one in the process.
Okocha said it was even more gratifying to see Nigeria coach Augustine Eguavoen make a massive eight changes in Wednesday’s game.
The highlight saw striker Sadqi Umar score in his first AFCON start when he netted the opening goal in the 56th minute before Nigeria captain William Ekong wrapped-up the match in the 79th minute.
“He has got a great team of not just eleven good players but also twenty-something good players that he can rely on,” Okocha stated.
“There is nothing better for the coach than giving a player a chance and him paying you back by restoring his confidence in you.
“I think it is good to see that we are flying high but the game today is gone, the most important one is the next one and we can only justify our performances so far if we go on and win the next one.”
Nigeria returns to action this Sunday and await the best third place finisher from yesterday’s night’s tight Group E and F encounter’s.
“So every next game is the toughest one for you and the one you have to win,” Okocha said.
“I hope we will carry on the good job that we are doing so far.”

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Nigeria, Egypt Tipped For AFCON 2021 Title

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Sudan coach Burhan Tia has tipped Nigeria for a long run at the Africa Cup of Nations following the Super Eagles’ strong group-stage campaign.
The Falcons of Jediane were defeated by both the West African giants and Egypt’s Pharaohs during their brief stint in the competition, and has seen enough from both sides to expect great things from them in the fixtures to come.
“Could Egypt or Nigeria be champions?” Tia asked rhetorically. “Both teams are very good and both played good football in the group.
“They are two teams who could go very far in the competition.”
The Super Eagles faced off with Sudan in their second group match, having dispatched Egypt 1-0 in their opener.
The result was a 3-1 triumph for Augustine Eguavoen’s men, with Samuel Chukwueze, Taiwo Awoniyi and Moses Simon netting the goals to confirm Nigeria’s passage to the Last 16.
The West African giants subsequently downed Guinea-Bissau 2-0 in their final group game on Wednesday to ensure they reach the knockout stages as the only team in the tournament with a 100-percent record.
It’s the first time since 2006 that Nigeria has navigated a Nations Cup group stage with maximum points, fuelling expectation that the West African giants can go the distance in the tournament for the first time since 2013.
Sudan’s campaign ended with a narrow 1-0 defeat by an unconvincing Egypt side in Yaounde on Wednesday, although coach Tia was downhearted with his side’s performance.
“We were concentrated on our game and we did as much as possible to see to it that we could put up a good fight,” he continued. “It wasn’t perfect but we tried our best.”
Ex-Al-Merreikh boss Tia was not happy with the mistakes his team made as they tried to keep their North African rivals at bay in the Nile Derby, but believes his side can hold their head high as they exit the competition.
“We played our game as much as we should have, we played quite well but I think that we had a number of mistakes as far as our players are concerned,” he concluded. “We will get better and we will try as much as possible to try and correct our mistakes.
“It was possible for us not to make them, but it was an important game for us, and we made effort and tried our best.

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