What’s next for the Nigeria U-17 team after qualifying for AFCON 2019?

The Golden Eaglets have beaten the Black Starlets 3:1 after a penalty shootout to reserve a place alongside seven other teams in the U-17 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) to be held in Tanzania next year. Nigeria will represent WAFU B as winners of one of the eight African Zone qualifying tournaments. They will try to become the first U-17 team to win the AFCON three times. So far they have two wins as do Ghana, Gambia and Mali who have won the Cup the last two times.

The team is supposed to be back home in Nigeria on Tuesday. The Chairman of the Technical Committee for the Nigerian Federation, Ahmed Fresh Yusuf, has personally rewarded the team for their success against Niger with $1 million in cash. The players will not receive anything from the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). Chairman Yusuf has further promised he would reward them with another $2 million if they beat Ghana, which they did. Not even the coaches from the U-17 team will be paid, apart from the head coach, Manu Garba, but even he hasn’t been paid any money since he was appointed to his position.

Golden Eaglets in 2013 (www.fifa.com)

Golden Eaglets in 2013 (www.fifa.com)

Still, the youngsters can come home with their heads raised high, especially the two players who received individual recognition after the tournament in Niger ended. Olakunle Olusegun won the top scorer prize with his four goals. And team captain, Samson Tijani, won the Golden Ball award for being the Most Valuable player in the tournament.

As winners of the WAFU B tournament, Nigeria now have a chance to qualify for the U-17 FIFA World Cup to be hosted by Peru in 2019, after they failed to qualify for the last one. They will achieve that goal if they are one of the top four teams in Tanzania. The 2019 AFCON tournament will have two groups of four teams and each team will play three matches in the group stage.

Whichever two teams are the top two in their groups will play in the semi-finals of the Championship and also qualify for the World Cup in Peru. Nigeria is the most successful U-17 team to ever play in the U-17 FIFA World Cup with eight medals in total, one more than Brazil. The Golden Eaglets have won the World cup five times, most than any other country, and were runners-up three times. They will have a great incentive to preserve that heritage and give themselves a chance to be at the top of the footballing world again.

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