BY KUNLE SOLAJA
It is 30 years since Nigeria’s Flying Eagles achieved their all-time best as runners-up in the now renamed FIFA U-20 World Cup which enters it 22nd edition in Poland. The team also placed second at the 2005 edition in The Netherlands.
As the tournament kicks off this Thursday, it will be the first time Poland will be hosting a FIFA event, a privilege Nigeria has enjoyed in 1999 and 2009 with the U-20 and U-17 respectively.
But for Poland, it is a milestone.The Polish Football Association will be staging the competition in their centenary year, with their president Zbigniew Boniek stating that the nation is prepared for the start of the tournament.
Boniek made 80 international appearances during his own career, with the former Juventus and Roma player finding the net on 24 occasions for Poland.
He expressed his view the upcoming tournament could see the emergence of potential stars of the future.
“I think world football has produced so many excellent players in recent years that we don’t need another Boniek, we can leave him out,” he told FIFA.com
“Having said that, we could see a player emerge in the same mould as Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski or Kane.
“I firmly believe that’ll happen at this tournament.”
Nigeria, playing in Group D, will face Qatar for the first time eve on Friday. The match comes up in Tychy. While it is Nigeria’s 12th appearance at the championship, this is just Qatar’s fourth. Both however have a common denominator – their best outing so far has been runners-up positions.
Nigeria placed second at Saudi Arabia in 1989 while Qatar were also runners up in 1981. Qatar replaced Nigeria as the hosts of the 1995 edition when Nigeria’s hosting rights were withdrawn in a thinly veiled political decision hinged on health concerns.
The opening games
Tahiti-Senegal (Lublin, 18:00 local time)
Poland-Colombia (Lodz, 20:30)
Mexico-Italy (Gdynia, 18:00)
Japan-Ecuador (Bydgoszcz, 20:30)