Former national team player, Wasiu Ipaye recounts how Nigeria’s U-20 Flying Eagles lost to Brazil at the Moscow ’89 FIFA U20 World Cup. In this interview, the ex-international advises the current Flying Eagles featuring in the 2015 edition to have confidence in themselves and face the Brazilians with a sense of purpose: that they are better than the Southern Americans. He also tips Nigeria and Brazil to qualify from Group E…. Interview By BAMIDELE BOLUWAJI
It has been a long time since you played for Nigeria, can you let our readers know who you are?
My name is Wasiu Ipaye, a former Nigeria national team player. I started playing for Nigeria in 1985 with the National U-20 team that represented the country at the Moscow ’85 where we finished third and from there, I graduated to the Super Eagles Eagles where I also played in the 1990 African Cup of Nations with the likes of Late Rashidi Yekini, Samson Siasia, Alloy Agu, Andrew Uwe and many more and today I am proud to have played for my country.
As a former junior international, how do you see the current Flying Eagles that will take part in the FIFA U- 20 World Cup holding in New Zealand?
I think the coaches have done a lot mostly with the continuity in the team; most of the players that played in the U-17 team are in the Flying Eagles,which is a good developmental process for our football. I remember that when Clemens Westerhof was here, that was exactly what he was doing and it really helped Nigerian football.
How would you compare the preparation of the current Flying Eagles for the U-20 World Cup to what you had in 1985?
Totally different and the simple reason for that is that lots of things have changed and the world has moved away from the primitive life to modern life. Then we did not have players playing abroad in our team but this time around, almost half of the team are already playing professional football abroad which is an advantage for them but in our own case in 1995, we had none playing abroad but blessed with natural talents that made the African continent proud. So that is the difference.
With what you have seen in the Flying Eagles, how far do you think they can go in this tournament?
Without exaggeration, I think the coaches have done a good job and I can see the players continue from where they stopped. If these boys play to instruction and focus all their attention on the tournament, I see them playing in the final and even lifting the trophy. The group stage is very important in whatever success they will achieve in the tournament and they must be very careful and give their best to make sure they qualify. They have the quality to win the trophy.
Brazil is considered the most difficult team in the Flying Eagles group, how do you think they should handle the team?
We have always seen Brazil as a tough team and that has given us the kind of mentality that they can always beat us which is not so. It affected us in 1985, we were made to believe that the Brazilians were robots but when we met on the field, we discovered that we could actually play them but had defeated ourselves before the game by believing that they are not footballers like us and that was how we lost to them. This team should have confidence in themselves and always believe that they are better than the Brazilians, they should not lose the game before the actual match time. We now have players playing abroad and they see massive crowds all the
time, so why should they be afraid of Brazil, the least team in the group could be more difficult.
What was the situation like in your camp few hours before you played Brazil in 1985?
Hahahaha…The situation was normal and calm because we knew we were going to play a team the whole world had talked about, a team rated 100 times better than us, a team many people described as robots, so we tried to be calm and that really affected our confidence and psychology.We’re were not a bad team in that tournament but the moment you believe you are going to have trouble, it is only God that can avert it and that was how we lost the game, very painful because we realised that if we had more time, after gaining our confidence, we could win the game.
How did you feel after losing the game to Brazil?
It was a sad moment for all the players and I cried that day because we had lost the game before the the actual match and from there and throughout my playing career and even as a coach today, I fear no team. Football is a game of eleven on each side, the strategies and your game plan will determine what you get in a match.
Looking at the likes of Iheanacho, Awoniyi, Success and few other players in the team, what do you think their future portends for Nigerian football?
Yes, the future is bright for them and I look forward to seeing them graduating from the U-20 team to the U-23 and I must praise Coach Samson Siasia for the interest he is showing in these players. The opportunity to play at the Olympic Games and the All Africa Games will be an added advantage to their career. Our coaches should also be ready to make good use of these players in our various national teams where they are qualified to play so that they can keep growing.
The Flying Eagles will also play Hungary and North Korea at the group stage, what are your expectations from these games?
Like I always say, the need to show enough determination and zeal to win any game and they must not underrate any of their opponents in the tournament. Each of the team in New Zealand for the junior World Cup, has what it takes to win and they must be very careful in every game they play.
Who would you pick as your star player in the team?
As a coach, I see all my players on an equal level to prevent distraction in the team, I will say all the players have the qualities needed to help Nigeria win the trophy.
Among the four teams in Group E, who could you pick to make it to the second round?
I will simply pick Nigeria and Brazil.
Away from the U-20 World Cup, the Super Eagles will play Chad on June 13 in a 2017 African Cup of Nations, what is your impression about Coach Stephen Keshi’s plans towards the game?
Honestly, a lot of things have changed in Nigerian football and that is why we could not make it to the 2015 edition, we are here again still with Keshi as coach and with all his experience, he should try as much as possible to invite players with good qualities, he saw how Clemens Westerhof built the national team and he should learn from that.
Nigeria missed the 2015 AFCON. Do you see the Super Eagles making it this time around?
With proper planning, I am sure that Nigeria will be make it to the 2017 edition because we have learnt a lot from the 2015 and Keshi himself must have realized that the only thing that can keep him on is to qualify Nigeria for the Nations Cup.
Finally, your message to Keshi…
He should show enough determination to qualify Nigeria for the 2017 Nations Cup.