Amuneke: Our Best Will Come In Chile

Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets have set the benchmark when it comes to U-17 football – at least, on the global level. With four FIFA U-17 World Cup titles as well as three further appearances in the final match, the west Africans will go into Chile 2015 as one of the favourites. Ironically, they have fewer continental laurels, having won the African championship at the age level just twice, and they only managed to finish fourth earlier this year at the event in Niger.
The side’s famous coach, Emmanuel Amuneke, explained the dichotomy to FIFA.com recently, saying their best play tends to come out on the biggest stage. “African football is a totally different ball game. It is more rugged and sometimes the pitch condition does not help a team that likes to keep possession of the ball, for instance.
“We do well at the World Cup because the pitches help us to play much better. This happened at the 2013 tournament in the United Arab Emirates [which Nigeria won with a 3-0 victory against Mexico in the final]. People could see our real quality.”
Getting the Eaglets to soar Amuneke, who played for the Super Eagles at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ – scoring memorable goals against Bulgaria and Italy – and won gold at the 1996 Olympics, says he believes his international experience will help his players in Chile. “Being a former Nigerian international, I have had the opportunity to play at the highest level – at the FIFA World Cup – and it is always a good memory. It was quite an experience, and taking a team to a World Cup as a coach gives me the opportunity to let the players know what is expected at this level.”
The U-17 World Cup has traditionally drawn many agents and scouts wanting to woo players to European clubs. And while the closeness of that dream can bring out the best in the youngsters from around the world, Amuneke insists his charges understand their connection to each other first.