27th April, 2011
An improved defence could see Nigeriaâ€™s Flying Eagles progress to the final of the Orange Africa Youth Championships at the Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto tomorrow.
Nigeriaâ€™s campaign so far has been rather inconsistent. First they overcame their arch rivals and defending champions Ghana 2-1 in their opening Group B match.
This rare achievement lifted the teamâ€™s spirits ahead of their clash with Cameroon, who routinely beat Nigeria in this age group contest. But, Nigeria again slumped 0-1 to Cameroon.
â€œI lost almost my entire defence just before we came to South Africa for this tournament. So building a credible defence was a work in progress as the competition got underway,â€ says coach John Obuh.
Going into Mondayâ€™s final preliminary match against Gambia, the Nigerians had their backs to the wall and faced possible elimination. Obuhâ€™s defensive formation finally clicked as they held the marauding Gambian strikers at bay in the first half.
The introduction of Stanley Okoro as an impact player in the second half paid off. He found the back of the net before skipper Ramon Azeez put matters beyond any doubts.
When the referee blew the final whistle, there was a collective sigh of relief among Nigerians at the Milpark Stadium in Johannesburg. Nigeria secured a hard fought 2-0 victory.
â€œAs the competition unfolds, we have eventually found a defensive formula. We have achieved our minimum goals of picking a ticket to the FIFA Youth World Cup in Colombia in July,â€Â Obuh said.
â€œThe core of this team comprises of those who played in the side I guided to win the silver medal at the 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria.
They have been together as a playing unit for two years and know each other well,â€ Obuh explained. Therefore I expect more. Defensively we must remain alert against the skilful Malians in tomorrowâ€™s semi final.
â€œI am convinced we will achieve more in this tournament,â€ Obuh declared.