Nigeria’s Under-20 national team (Flying Eagles) captain Ikouwem Udo Utin has assured that the team will give their best to make Nigeria proud when the Under 20 Africa Cup of Nations gets underway in Niger this weekend.
Ikouwem who plays for Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) side Enyimba told www.aclsports.com on Wednesday that himself and his teammates have put the disappointment of losing to Senegal in the final of the 2018 WAFU UFOAB tournament in Lome, Togo behind them and are focused on achieving success in Niamey.
“I believe this AFCON is very crucial and important for us as players and Nigeria as a country because Nigeria didn’t play at the World Cup two years ago,” Ikouwem told www.aclsports.com
“I’m grateful that we got to qualify for the tournament. It was not easy for us but I believe we have done well during our preparation to correct every mistake and do what we need to do right so that we can qualify for the World Cup.
“We have put the disappointment behind us because the WAFU Cup was just a preparatory tournament for us. This is the main one and we can’t afford to keep looking at that,” added Ikouwem.
There were some shock omission from the side when head coach Paul Aigbogun released his final list of players for the tournament last week. Ikouwem’s teammate at CHAN 2018 Peter Eneji and his club mate at Enyimba Wasiu Alalade were among the surprise omissions and the left back says it is a form of reminder to the rest of the team to work hard for their place.
“I can’t say that any player in the team is assured of an automatic place. It is all about blending into the team and working hard to make sure you enter into the team. I believe that me, like everyone else in the team will try my best and put in effort to make sure that we feature for the team and excel,” said the 19-year old.
Record seven time winners Nigeria are drawn against hosts Niger, South Africa and Burundi in Group A of the two-week long tournament. Flying Eagles will face Burundi in their opening group fixture on Saturday evening at the Stade Général Seyni Kountché in Niamey.
Ikouwem carefully articulates his team’s ambition at the tournament.
“Our target is first to win the trophy and secondly to qualify for the World Cup and make sure we make Nigerians proud.
“The first target is to get to the semi-final and from there we will aspire for greater things,” stated the Alaska Academy product.
The four semi-finalists in Niger 2019 will represent Africa at the 2019 World Youth Championship to be hosted by Poland, starting from May 23, 2019.