The Golden Eaglets of Nigeria will be the cynosure of all eyes as the 2023 U17 Africa Cup of Nations commences in Algeria, a competition which also serves as qualifiers for the global tournament.
The Eaglets enter into the African tournament as WAFU B champions after the free scoring team brushed aside their opponents at the qualification tournament in Ghana last year, winning all four games and scoring twelve goals in the process.
Nigeria are in Group B alongside Zambia, South Africa and Morocco and they will play their group stage games at the Stade Chahid Hamlaoui in Constantine.
“We are under pressure. We know that every team wants to beat Nigeria. I am not so much interested in the trophy as in the development of the players, and the beauty of the game,” head coach Nduka Ugbade said on Saturday.
He added: “These are young players. You can never say after all your preparations what comes next because you are playing technically, you are also playing tactically and also have to consider the psychological discipline of the players. We want the players to be disciplined to go for 90 minutes to emerge victorious.
“To achieve this, we want to do everything humanly possible within the context of our strength and capacity to see that every team that comes against us is subdued.”
GOAL-DEN EAGLETS!— Fisayo Dairo (@FisayoDairo) April 29, 2023
The #TotalEnergiesAFCONU17 gets underway in Algeria today.
All eyes on WAFU B Champions, Nigeria. A goal-crazy bunch of teenagers hope to win it for Nigeria since 2007.
This team scored 116 goals in friendly games since January.
TIME TO DO IT IN AFRICA pic.twitter.com/eStJovBVfF
During the final phase of camping for this tournament which commenced on the 23rd of January in Abuja, the Golden Eaglets played a total of twenty-three (23) friendly matches, winning twenty (20), drawing one and losing two matches.
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The two losses suffered by the team came in February, a 4-6 defeat to Derby Football Academy and a 1-2 loss to Triple O FC of Kaduna while they drew 2-2 with professional side Family Worship Centre (FWC) of Abuja.
The 2023 set of Golden Eaglets are renowned for their knack for goalscoring and they scored a total of one hundred and sixteen (116) goals in the twenty-three friendly game, an average of 5.04 games per game.
The team also conceded twenty-nine goals in those games with one-third of it coming in the aforementioned three matches they failed to win.
Ugbade hails Algerian govt, CAF…— Francis Achi (@totorimaster) April 29, 2023
Nduka Ugbade has hailed Algerian govt and CAF for staging U-17 AFCON tournament, says the tournament is a lifetime opportunity for the players to develop their game. @9ja_footballers @oluchitobex @BCSports5 @ClintonSpel @QualityQuadry pic.twitter.com/HpJbcIDhF6
Ugbade still has the bulk of talented youngsters that won the WAFU B tournament in Cape Coast in his armoury including goalkeeper Richard Odoh, right back Yahaya Danjuma Lawali, set-piece specialist Emmanuel Michael, centre back Jeremiah Olaleke and forwards Precious Williams, Abubakar Abdullahi and Light Eke.
Apart from winning the Under 16 FIFA World Cup as captain in 1985, Nduka Ugbade was the assistant coach to Manu Garba when a swashbuckling Nigerian U17s that had Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi won the tournament in 2013. Ugbade is currently being assisted by Yemi Olanrewaju who also assists Finidi George at Enyimba.
Ugbade’s wards will hope to be at their free-scoring best when they face COSAFA Champions Zambia in their tournament opener on Sunday, starting from 5pm Nigerian time.
The four semi-finalists at the U17AFCON tournament will qualify to represent Africa at the 2023 U17 FIFA World Cup at a yet to be named country.
Group and Fixtures
Group A: Algeria, Senegal, Congo and Somalia
Group B: Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Morocco
Group C: Cameroon, Mali, Burkina Faso and South Sudan.
Nigeria vs Zambia – Sunday, April 30 (5pm).
Nigeria vs Morocco – Wednesday, May 3 (5pm).
South Africa vs Nigeria – Saturday, May 6 (8pm