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U-16 World Cup: 35 years after first triumph

In 1985, a bunch of unsung talents left the country for China to participate in the then FIFA Kodak U-16 World Cup with little or no hope of making any impact at the event. However, on August 11, 1985, the news was everywhere that Nigeria defeated Germany 2-0 in the final of the FIFA Kodak U-16 World Cup. We recall Sebastian Brodericks-Imasuen was the Head Coach with former Eagles skipper, Christian Chukwu, as assistant.

The full team of players who achieved the feat is as follows: Lucky Agbonsevbafe, Duere Tuenwonrimi, Nduka Ugbade, Fatai Atere, Binaebi 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, and Dele Abubakar. It was exactly 35 years ago last week and for those old enough to recall the impact of the achievement, it was indeed nostalgic!

The youngsters from Nigeria made a big statement to tell the world that good things can come from black Africa. Shortly after the win, 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.

Looking back, 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 Eaglets but when they came back victorious, the then military Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari (current civilian President), referred to the bunch as the Golden Eaglets. Good enough, after that win, Nigeria also won in 1993, 2007, 2013 and 2015. The country currently holds the best record in this cadre of world football, but it is sad this is yet to be replicated at the senior level.

This is a disturbing trend. 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 team levels. As we remember this feat and celebrate the golden boys of China ’85, we strongly make a case for a transition template to bring out the hidden talents in various parts of the country. Cristasus Macaulay, Philip Osondu, Kabiru Akinsola,Femi Opabunmi, Kingsley Aikhionbare, Bawa Abdulahi and Stanley Okoro are some of the promising players at U-17 and U-20 levels who failed to transit to the Super Eagles.

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 African Games and the Olympic Games. Nigeria has potential to rule the world at various cadres of sporting endeavours if the right things are done as expected to monitor the progress of the young talents and guide them towards becoming senior super stars. No doubt, the country is blessed with enormous talents in various fields of human endeavours.

For example, 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. Also, 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 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 on global limelight.

While we emphasize the need for transition of talents, we also charge young footballers and athletes in other sports not to be in a rush to travel abroad especially because it is better to have a solid foundation before becoming a professional athlete.

A very good sports policy could solve this riddle, but implementation has been a problem over the years. We again congratulate Ugbade and colleagues for setting the tone for good image boosting achievement in China and urge the sports authorities to emulate others abroad by setting a transition template to help overall sports development.




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