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Eaglets prepared to battle Sweden for final ticket

05 November 2013, 14:41

Abuja - When the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup kicked off in the UAE on October 17, the Nigerian team were undoubtedly among the competition's favourites because of their rich history.

They had won the competition in 1985, 1993 and 2007 and emerged runners-up in 1987, 2001 and 2009, from nine appearances in the competition’s earlier 14 editions.

But now, the Golden Eaglets' fourth title aspiration seems tied to how strong they can be against their Sweden in Tuesday’s semi-final meeting, their second meeting since the competition began.

They had met in a Group F encounter which ended 3-3 on October 22, a match the Nigerian side described as their most testing group match.

They had to draw level after going two goals down by the 20th minute, and they still had to come from behind to pick a point from the match with nine minutes to go.

In this game at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai however, the Eaglets have to do better as they have more at stake.

In this their seventh semi-final appearance, the Eaglets even have a lot to prove against a Swedish side that is making its debut in the competition.

So far, the Eaglets have proven their strength with 20 goals scored and five conceded in four wins and one draw so far.

While the Swedes have scored 11 goals and conceded 7, from three wins, one draw and one loss, the Eaglets appear to be better in all ramifications, going by their record.

However, one player the Nigerian team should be wary of is Valmir Berisha who set the Eaglets on fire with his brace in their Group F meeting.

Berisha, a lofty Swedish striker, has been instrumental in his side’s progress at the competition.

But in Success Isaac and Musa Yahaya, scorers against Sweden earlier, as well as Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Musa Mohammed, the Eaglets seem to be up to the task.

As it is, both teams would have to do without one player each, Sweden's Viktor Nordin and Nigeria's Akinjide Idowu, due to suspension.

Looking ahead to the match, Nigeria's goalkeeper Dele Alampasu, who has conceded five goals, with three of them against Sweden, said he has learnt his lessons.

He has promised not to make the same mistakes he made during their first meeting.

"I wasn't myself then. I messed up coming off my line for the first goal and that weighed on me afterwards.

"I was a bit lost after the first goal and before I could get myself back in the game, I was called on again and everything went wrong.

"But, I thank God I got over it against Iraq when we won 5-0 and I won't make the same mistakes against Sweden. I've learnt my lesson.

"This is my first international experience and I have drawn a lot of information from that game, especially in terms of the level of concentration you need to have at this level,'' he said.

Coach Manu Garba has equally promised that the Eaglets would not disappoint, saying they would not be complacent and would also be wary of the Swedes.

"It is like a case of being twice beaten and being twice shy. We know them now, after the 3-3 draw, and we are also sufficiently experienced to be well prepared.

"We will do what we have to do to reach the final, because the final and the title is our ultimate,’’ he said.

No Nigerian will be expecting less though, going by the words of Garba and Alampasu, but the records are there to show that the Eaglets should advance to Friday’s final.

Afterall, they have scored more goals and conceded less, and they are backed by their country’s rich history in the competition, and they should thereafter do better.


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