35 years after… Salute to trail blazers, Golden Eaglets

Nigeria is a country blessed with enormous talents in various fields of human endeavour. Over the years, sports and entertainment, especially music, have brought out the very best in the country’s youths. Some athletes (especially footballers) and artistes perform so well and even do better than their counterparts in developed countries.

There are many cases to boost the impact of Nigerian youths at global stage. Burna Boy was nominated for the last Grammy Awards. Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade are global names in entertainment just as we have past and present athletes boosting Nigeria’s image in sports. Stephen Keshi, Austin Okocha, Emmanuel Amuneke, Victor Ikpeba, Late Rasihi Yekini, Nwankwo Kanu, Celestine Babayaro, Daniel Amokachi, Joseph Yobo and Vincent Enyeama were some of the footballers in the past who gave Nigeria a good image. Today, the likes of Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi, Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Moses Simon, Wilfred Ndidi and Samuel Kalu are making waves in the round leather game to boost the country’s image.

In other sports, Yusuf Ali, Chioma Ajunwa, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Innocent Egbunike, Soji Fasuba, Dick Tiger, Davidson Andeh, Atanda Musa, Funke Osonaike, Nduka Odizor and Chika Chukwumerije made name for the country in the past while Divine Oduduru, Tobi Amusan, Blessing Okagbare, Oduayo Adekuoroye, Blessing Oborodudu, and Aruna Quadri are some of those currently putting the country in global limelight. However, the boom in sports started in 1985 when a bunch of unsung heroes left the country for China to participate in the then FIFA Kodak U-16 World Cup. Truth be told, not many knew when the team travelled out of the country but on August 11, 1985, the news was everywhere that Nigeria defeated Germany 2-0 in the final of the youth football fiesta.

Under the tutelage of coach Sebastian Brodericks, the full team of players who achieved the feat is as follows: Lucky Agbonsevbafe, Duere Tuenwonrimi, Nduka Ugbade, Fatai Atere, Binebi Numa, Kingsley Aikhionbare, Salisu Nakade, Sani Adamu, Jonathan Akpoborie, Victor Igbinoba, Bella Momoh, Imama Amapakabo, Baldwin Bazuaye, Joseph Babatunde, Chukwuma Nwoha, Mohamed Yahaya, Hilary Adiki, Dele Abubakar. Interestingly, that was the first time some people ever heard of the name ‘Nigeria’ as a country.

It was exactly 35 years ago during the week and for those old enough to recall the impact of the achievement, it was indeed nostalgic! It was a big statement by the Nigerian lads to tell the world that good things can come from black Africa. Shortly after the win, the late Dele Giwa, a top journalist at the time wrote in Newswatch Magazine: “Black kids were not supposed to beat white kids.” Of course this was an apt reaction to the global norm that good things can only come from the white people in the developed world.

Many black footballers and athletes till date making waves in their various fields rode on the achievement and the good template created by the victorious 1985 U-16 team of Nigeria. Captain of the team, Ugbade, said the feat achieved at the time was a turning point for him and most members of the team. The team was known as Baby Eagles but when they came back victorious, the then military President, Mohammadu Buhari, referred to the bunch as the Golden Eaglets. It is good to know that after that win, Nigeria also won in 1993, 2007, 2013 and 2015. Nigeria holds the best record in this cadre of world football but sad enough this is yet to be replicated at the senior level.

Keeper Agbonsevbafe, defender Atere, midfielders Aikhionbare and Adamu and striker Igbinoba never made it in the Eagles and they were glorious at China ’85. Ugbade and Akpoborie were able to feature for the Eagles but not prominently. Adamu was a surprise because he showed so much promise in China but never blossomed to senior limelight at club or national level.

As we remember this feat and celebrate the golden boys of China ’85, it is another wake up call to the coaches to bring out the hidden talents in various parts of the country. The next cadre to the cadet team is U-20 and despite playing in the final twice, the country is yet to clinch the gold but has won gold, silver and bronze at the U-23 level which is basically for the Olympic Games. Nigeria has potential to rule the world at various cadres of sporting endeavour if the right things are done as expected.


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