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1999 FIFA World Youth Championship – Flying Eagles Wobble and Fumble At Home
In 1999, Nigeria won the right to host the 12th edition of the FIFA World Youth Championship. It was the year; the Flying Eagles were labeled “wobbly and fumbling”. They started their World Cup campaign at home on a rather embarrassing note, with a 1-1 draw against poorly rated Costa Rica, with Julius Aghahowa scoring the opener in the 20th minute of play, before resuming their act against Germany, which they defeated. 2-0. The goals were scored by Ganiyu Shittu and Hashimu Garba in the 69th and 81st minute respectively.
Their last group game was against Paraguay, and they groped in front of a large crowd who came to cheer them on to victory. The game against Paraguay ended in Paraguay’s favor 2–1 with Ganiyu Shittu scoring the consolation goal in the 38th minute of play. The Flying Eagles however managed to narrowly qualify for the knockout stages.
In the Round of 16, the Flying Eagles worked hard to secure a 1-1 draw against Ireland with small forward Pius Ikedia’s equalizer in the 70th minute. The game then went to a penalty shootout and millions of Nigerians had their hearts in their mouths for the duration of the kicks. This ultimately hampered the Flying Eagles who were down 5-3. Pius Ikedia, Gbenga Okunowo, John Aranka, Eddy Dombraye and Ganiyu Shittu all converted their shots on goal. Republic of Ireland’s Thomas Heary missed his kick to set up a quarter-final duo between Nigeria and Mali.
The Flying Eagles had their work cut out for them as they found the Malians too hot to handle the quarter-final contested at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu, eastern Nigeria. The Malians were so ruthless in the quarter-finals that they inflicted a 3-1 defeat on the hapless Eagles who couldn’t steal when it mattered most. The Flying Eagles’ chief executioner was the enterprising Malian midfielder Seydou Keita, who would later become the winner of the Adidas Golden Ball.
The defeat of the unfortunate Flying Eagles caused much uproar in sporting circles, with the eventual sacking of Dutch coach Thijs Libregts from the technical team of the Nigeria U-20 national team. The team had a lot of potential, but they couldn’t fully utilize their full potential. Some notable players from this team include: Joseph Yobo, Rabiu Afolabi, Julius Aghahowa, Haruna Babangida and late goalkeeper Sam Okoye.
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