National U-17 Golden Eaglets coach Emmanuel Amuneke says his team is ready to face any opponent at the CAF U-17 Championship which kicks off in Niger this weekend. In this interview with BAMIDELE BOLUWAJI, The former Barcelona of Spain star says the feat achieved by the last team under coach Mnau Garba will be a motivating factor to the present squad…
Sir, in less than four days the 2015 CAF U-17 African Championship will kick off in Niger, how ready is your team for the tournament?
We have been in camp for some weeks now and during the period; we have been able to see the players and what they can do. We have equally played some friendly matches to further see how they can be in competition level and I can tell you that we are happy with what we have seen in the players and we are just waiting for the tournament to kick off.
The previous U-17 teams had the opportunity of travelling abroad to play some friendly matches in preparation for the main tournament but the case of this present team was not the same, don’t you think this could affect the team in Niger?
I was part of the last U-17 team that later won the World Cup and I can tell you that a lot of efforts were put into the team to prepare the players for the World Cup but this time around, things were a bit different but we are not going to allow that to stop us from going there to give our best. The players know that they need to work hard to give their best at the tournament.
How would you react to the choice of Sokoto as camping site for the team ahead of the Championship?
Well, we are already here and we are trying to get use to the climatic condition here which I was told is the same with Niger so if everything works as we were told, I don’t expect the players to have any problem but if we had had the opportunity of playing outside the country, it would have helped the players in the area of exposure but we are not going to allow that affect us.
It took you some time before you could come up with a team for the Championship, what were the difficulties you faced in picking the players?
Well, it has to be so because it is a team of young boys who are not known or have not really played to national level, so we took our time to select these boys and also blend them together and in doing all these, it takes time which the FA also understood. The screenings were broken into different stages so that we could be able to access the players very well and know what they can offer. We also watch them during some of the friendly matches we played.
Nigeria being the defending champions of the world at U-17 level, are you under any pressure to win the African title?
I am not under any pressure, we were given this assignment and we are going to do our best. What I want you to understand is that we are talking about two different teams and you can’t say you will get exactly the same thing from the two sides. We are going there as a new team that is well determined to fly the country’s flat high in Niger.
How will that record motivate this team at the 2015 CAF African Championship in Niger?
We have continued to tell the boys to emulate the previous team and I am sure that they will do that because we all know what that victory brought to the lives of the players and if they can emulate them, the sky will be their limit. It will be on record that they also did their best to win the tournament rather than just going there to participate.
What is the support like from the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF?
Oh they have been very supportive to the team and going by the recent development in our football, I think they have tried and we will be glad to go there and win the tournament for Nigeria.
Winning the tournament will be the target of any coach and if I may ask, what is the target of the Golden Eaglets to the U-17 Championship?
Laughs…just like you rightly said, the target of any coach is to win the trophy and we are not in exemption, we are going to approach the tournament game after game with the hope of winning the trophy and go to the World Cup as African champions.
You are going to open the tournament with host country, Niger on Sunday, what do you expect from the game?
I am not expecting anything short of victory in the game because it is going to be the first and the result we are able to get from there will go a long way in determining how we are going to perform in the tournament. I have told the players that they need to give their very best in the match and they should not underrate them because that could be very dangerous. We also have to be very careful in the match because it is not easy playing the host country in the first game, the home support will be there but we are not going to allow that to intimidate us or affect our plans for the tournament.
You also have Guinea and Zambia as opponents in the tournament, how much do you know of these teams and what do you expect from them?
Well, we really don’t know much about them but we are prepared to play any team in the tournament and that is why we have been in camp for some months now preparing. I know that no team is coming to the tournament without the mind of winning and for any team to achieve that, one really needs to give his best so we are going to do that and also take every game as it comes.
After the African Championship, the World Cup will follow; do you see your team beyond this stage?
Yes, we are looking beyond the African Championship, we want to play in the World Cup but it has to be one after another, we need to prove what we can do in Niger first before we start talking about the World Cup. It is the dream of every team or coach to feature in the World Cup and we are going to do our best to get there.
How do you see the future of the players you have in the National U-17 side now?
The future is bright for them but they need to show enough determination that they want to be successful and that means they have to be very diligent and disciplined anywhere they find themselves. This tournament is developmental and it is all about exposing talents, so I see that this tournament can shoot them to the limelight.
Who among your opponents do you see as most difficult side to play?
We respect all our opponents and we are not going to underrate them, we will treat each of them equally to make sure that we get what we want which is the trophy.
The African Nations Cup ended on Sunday in Equatorial Guinea without Nigeria being there, how did you feel and how do you think Nigeria can guide against future occurrence?
It was painful watching the final without seeing Nigeria there but that has become thing of the past now, I think we need to work harder and give the team more support so that we will not miss out during the 2017 edition.
Finally, what is your message to Nigerians as you go to Niger for the Championship?
They should have confidence in the team and give us all the support we need.