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Nigerian Football

All hope not lost on Golden Eaglets, Amuneke counsels NFF

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Emmanuel Amuneke as Golden Eaglets' coach in 2015.

The Nigeria U-17 team,Golden Eaglets may have failed to make the cut in the qualification for the next FIFA U-17 World Cup, a former coach of the team and also a former international and assistant coach to the Super Eagles has advised against throwing the baby and bathwater away.

In an interview with a leading Nigerian newspaper, ThisDay, Amuneke pointed to the essence of age-graded competition, saying that it is essentially, a developmental project and not necessarily meant to win trophies.

Amuneke, who first made his mark as an U-23 player for Nigeria in 1991 and was part of the coaching crew to the 2013 World Cup winning team of the Golden Eaglets, was the coach that handled the winning squad of 2015.

In his squad were the likes of Samuel Chukwueze and Victor Osimhen who are now household names in European fields.

According to Amuneke, whose twin strikes won Nigeria the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and the gold medal at the Atlanta ‘96 Olympic Games, the current squad of Golden Eaglets should be applauded and encouraged.

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“The young lads did their best but were unlucky not to get the desired result”, remarked the 1994 African Footballer of the Year.

“We must collectively salute the players and the coaching crew for doing a good job but were unfortunate not to qualify for the finals.

“We cannot afford to let them go just like that because we must erase the tag failure in their history which has been a tradition any time our age-group team failed to win at major events.

“The players are disappointed in themselves knowing fully well that it was an opportunity to launch their career on the big stage and suddenly vanished due to ill luck.

“I can see them doing well if we make conscious effort to integrate them in the domestic league at lower cadre instead of allowing them to vanish into thin air,” he remarked.

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Amuneke noted that in 2003 squad toU-17 World Cup in Finland did not go beyond Group phase but the likes of John Obi Mikel, Chinedu Obasi, Isaac Promise and Ambruse Vanzekin were able to reach the Olympics and Super Eagles level.

“We must engage ourselves in a long-term programme that will ensure the boys are injected into the domestic league clubs and as well as take cognisant of their educational growth which a global standard today aside footballing programme.

“As for the coaching crew, it’s unfortunate what as happened to them but as for me, they did their best.

“It takes a good coach (Ugbade) to be patient with the players for making simple errors which was natural of players of that age.

“I was once in same situation and you have to keep lecturing, develop and ensure proper growth unfortunately as a coach someone must pay the price because Players’ Agents will infiltrate the camp and for obvious reason and when the final selection did not go their way, all they wish is for the team to fail but a good coach should just stay focused and damn the consequence.

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“At any given time, our system is warped towards immediate results instead of long-term planning and as a coach you make friends and enemy as same time but what is important is to stick to the plans,” he pointed out in a telephone interview.

He also recalled his experience as the coach of U-20 team that failed to qualify for the AFCON tournament after defeat to Niger 5-6 on goals aggregate even when his team had the honour to play the final leg at home.

“Aside the core group of boys that won the 2015 tournament in Ecuador, some of the players that did not make the final selection into the tournament from our Calabar camp were invited unfortunately the result did not go our way on a wet evening at Teslim Balogun Stadium.

“I watched the players wept openly in the dressing room and took time to console with them because it was a great opportunity to elevate their career but today I am happy that the likes of Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Nwakali and many others in that squad moved beyond that stage today,” he recalled.

In Nigeria, the age-grated competition are often seen as a must win project. Failure is an aberration and the coaching crew and and the players often pay the price as the objective is always to win and win.

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In  January1985, the Nigeria Flying Eagles defeated Cameroon 5-1 in Lagos to pick the ticket for the then U-21 World Youth Championship in the Soviet Union.

Only Samson Siasia made it at the Super Eagles’ level. The others literally fizzled out at the youth level. But the players of the defeated Cameroon side made it big, years later, forming the bulk of the record-setting Indomitable Lions at the Italia’90 World Cup.

France under coach Jean-François Jodar won the U-17 World Cup in 2001, beating Nigeria. The coach had been on the saddle from 1987  and did not qualify France for the FIFA U-16/17 tournament till 2001.

He was left on the saddle as his performance was not calculated on the number of trophies won, but on the number of talents he was able to churn out for the national team.

It was reported that the bulk of French players that won the 1998 World Cup passed through Jean-François Jodar.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian Football

Relief for continental ticket-seeking Enyimba

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Enyimba FC who are desperately seeking a return to the continental fixtures next season have been relieved of a little financial burden by the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation.

 The initial N10 million fine imposed on the team has been reduced almost by half.

 In the ill-tempered match with Enugu Rangers three weeks ago, the Nigeria Premier League fine Enyimba N5 million as part of the disciplinary measures taken, claiming that Enyimba disrupted the live telecast of the match.

The NFF committee disagrees with the decision and therefore set aside the fine imposed.

Enyimba will this Sunday host Plateau United in a potentially volatile match as both teams have varying chances of picking continental ticket to feature in either the CAF Champions League or the Confederation Cup.

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All eyes on Aba, Ibadan and Ikenne as battle for continental tickets goes down to the wire!

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A stroll in the park to be followed by victory parade are the anticipated spectacles in Jos when Enugu Rangers face ‘home’ sides, Gombe United this Sunday.

But elsewhere, it could be ‘thunder and blood’ battle as four eligibles fight for two obtainable continental tickets in three venues of Ikenne, Ibadan and Aba.

Remo Stars, Shooting Stars, Enyimba and Plateau United are aspirants jostling for continental tickets.

On the other side of the struggle is also the battle to evade relegation. Coincidentally, Ibadan  provides the venue for both dreams where the hosts, Shooting Stars, will be hoping to pick a ticket to any of the two CAF inter-clubs competitions while the debuting Premier League sides, Sporting Lagos are expected to play the game of their life.

Coincidentally, Shooting Stars were expected to give the Lagos sides the succour last weekend when they faced Bayelsa United.

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 Had Shooting Stars won the match, Sporting Lagos which upstaged Enyimba 2-1, would have been in comfort zone, making Sunday’s duel at the Lekan Salami a ‘merry-making’ venture for both sides.

But a twist of fortunes which saw Bayelsa fighting back to a 2-1 win means Shooting Stars will have to spare no weapon on Sunday to beat Sporting Lagos.

The visitors on the other hand have a mountain to climb to avoid the looming drop.

 Ikenne provides another battle ground, though with lesser gravity than what is expected in Ibadan and Aba. A win of any margin secures CAF Champions League ticket for Remo Stars as they host Katsina United who stay without threat in the middle of the league log.

But the battle will be fiercer in Aba where both hosts, Enyimba and visiting Plateau United have arithmetical and conjectural chances of making the top three and obtaining a continental ticket.

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While the battle at the top of the log is for two teams to join Enugu Rangers in getting continental ticket, so also it is at the bottom as both Gombe United and Heartland await the two others that will escort them to the lower league.

 Battling to avoid the drop are Sporting Lagos, Doma United, Akwa United and Bayelsa.

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Coronation day for champion-elect, Enugu Rangers

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Enugu Rangers can afford to lose 56-0 this Sunday to Gombe United and erase the record negative goal difference of the already relegated side. Such a scoreline will not change the destiny of both sides as Rangers will merely enter the pitch to fulfill the fixtures for formality sake. They will be more interested in the post match event – their coronation as the new king of Nigerian league.

 A win will only add icing to the celebration cake, taking their points to 70, just three short of 73 obtained by the defunct Dolphins in the 2010/2011 season.

 But it is taking nothing away from Enugu Rangers who will be presented with the league trophy this Sunday by the NFF president, Ibrahim Musa Gusau.

The NFF chieftain headlines a choice list of eminent guests expected at the occasion, which will see the champions, who will be crowned for the eighth time since a national football league was introduced in 1972.

Their success this season was confirmed last weekend when they beat Bendel Insurance 2-0 at home while their three rivals – Remo Stars, Shooting Stars and Enyimba lost their respective away games with identical scorelines of 2-1.

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