Golden Eaglets assistant coach, Nduka Ugbade, is upbeat on the chances of the team claiming a third title at the 2019 U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Tanzania, Completesports.com reports.
Manu Garba’s young lads will face hosts Tanzania in the competition’s opening fixture on Sunday at the National Stadium, Dar es Salaam.
“The truth is that the U-17 AFCON is very competitive because of the amount of effort that is concentrated upon it by most countries,” Ugbade who was also an assistant to Garba when Nigeria won the U-20 AFCON four years ago in Senegal told CAFOnline.com.
“Teams from Africa can compete favourably well at the FIFA World Cup because the intensity of the game at this level on the continent is very high and that is why the Nigerian team over the years is difficult to beat, due to strength, skills and mental speed.”
Ugbade also states that CAF has raised the bar for the U-17 AFCON with recently introduced regional tournaments to determine eventual qualifiers for the biennial continental competition.
“I think the U-17 AFCON has taken a new dimension because you must have competed at the highest level to earn the zonal ticket and it makes the competition tougher,” he explained.
“How I wish CAF can allow two teams from each zone to qualify for the main championship in future because some of the traditional teams like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and even South Africa would not be in Tanzania.”
The Eaglets were lucky to make the trip to Tanzania since Ghana nearly upset their applecart in the regional WAFU Zone B final match in Niger last September where they triumphed 3-1 on penalties after they both tied 1-1 in regulation time.
Ugbade continued: “I want to believe our zonal tournament in Niger was the toughest, but I think it has also toughened our mental strength ahead of the trip to Tanzania.
“I so much believe in this team we are taking to Tanzania and I will be the happiest because I have not won the U-17 AFCON before and the last time we were beaten in the final on penalties by Cote d’Ivoire in 2013.”
The present lads showed their readiness for the 2019 AFCON at the recent UEFA-organised U-17 Turkey Invitational Tournament where despite losing 2-0 in their opener against Senegal, they beat Montenegro (4-2) and their Group A rivals in Tanzania, Angola (3-1).
“There won’t be any margin for errors for us in Tanzania because we will have the best teams from all the regions of Africa,” noted Ugbade who was part of the Super Eagles’ 1994 AFCON-winning team in Tunisia and the was the captain of the pioneer Golden Eaglets that won the inaugural FIFA U-17 World Cup in China, in 1985.
“Apart from Senegal that defeated us in Turkey, we will also have Cameroon and Guinea.
“Our objective first and foremost would be qualification for the World Cup by reaching the semi-finals and, thereafter, we can focus our attention on winning the trophy for the third time for Nigeria,” he noted.
By Adeboye Amosu