The last time Nigeria won their opening match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup was back in 2011, against Guatemala.
Since then the Flying Eagles, who have never won the tournament and who even managed to miss out on it altogether last time around (in 2017), have suffered more than their fair share of bad luck.
In their opening Group D encounter on Friday, Paul Aigbogun’s charges appeared determined to put their previous failures behind them by scoring four well-worked goals – two in each half – against Qatar, who were outclassed by the dynamic and powerful Africans.
Ayotomiwa Dele-Bashiru, scorer of the third goal, was one of the star Nigerian performers in Tychy.
“We prepared well for the match, and we got our reward,” he said. “We fully deserved the win, and I’m glad that we’ve brought our bad run of luck to an end.”
The Manchester City man put in a tireless shift in the middle of the park, and he was recompensed for his efforts after an hour of play, when he made a superb run to take Kingsley Michael’s threaded pass in stride and finish adroitly.
“I’m really proud of my goal, because it’s the first I’ve scored for my national team and it comes on my first official appearance for the U-20s. I’ve worked so hard to be here today,” Dele-Bashiru said with a smile.
This excellent start to the competition, during which the Nigerians more than showed what they are capable of, sent a clear message to their future opponents.
“I think we could go far in this tournament,” said Dele-Bashiru. “We’re going to do all we can to keep this momentum going while making sure we keep our feet on the ground.”
Nigeria are the undisputed kings of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, where they have earned winners’ medals five times and been runners-up on three more occasions. Now they have their minds set on finally capturing the U-20 version at Poland 2019, having twice finished as runners-up, in 1989 and 2005.
After his side’s eye-catching opening performance, Dele-Bashiru was bullish on his team’s chance to make history.
“We’ve got a strong squad whichever way you look at it,” the 19-year-old said. “We’re not lacking in individual talent either, and both those things lead us to believe we can achieve something worthwhile here in Poland.”
In order to do that, they will have to maintain their momentum when matched up against the United States on Monday in Bielsko-Biala.