How the Flying Eagles of Nigeria Wobbled and Fumbled at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship
The Flying Eagles of Nigeria are the U-20 National football team of Nigeria. They had an unforgettable tournament in 1999. In that year, Nigeria won the right to host the 12th edition of the FIFA World Youth Championship. That was the year; the Flying Eagles were tagged “wobbling and fumbling”. They started their World Cup campaign on home soil on a rather embarrassing note. The team was held to a 1-1 draw against lowly rated Costa Rica. Julius Aghahowa scored the opener in the 20th minute of play. They however picked up their act against Germany, whom they defeated 2-0. The goals were scored by Ganiyu Shittu and Hashimu Garba in the 69th and 81st Minutes respectively.
Their last group match was against Paraguay. Unfortunately, they fumbled before a capacity crowd that had come to cheer them to victory. The game ended in favor of Paraguay 2-1 with Ganiyu Shittu scoring the consolation goal in the 38th Minutes of play. The Flying Eagles however managed to qualify for the round of 16 by the skin of their teeth.
In the round of 16, the Flying Eagles labored to secure a 1-1 draw against Ireland. The equalizing goal coming from diminutive striker Pius Ikedia in the 70th Minute. The game then went into a penalty shoot-out, and millions of Nigerians had their heart in their mouth throughout the kicks. It eventually went in the way of the Flying Eagles who scrapped through 5-3. Pius Ikedia, Gbenga Okunowo, John Aranka, Eddy Dombraye, and Ganiyu Shittu all converted their spot-kicks. Thomas Heary of the Republic of Ireland missed his spot-kick to set a Quarterfinal pairing between Nigeria and Mali.
The Flying Eagles had their work cut out, as they found the Malians too hot to handle in the quarterfinal clash. The match was played at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu eastern Nigeria. The Malians were so ruthless in the quarterfinal clash, that they inflicted a 3-1 defeat on the hapless Eagles who could not fly when it mattered most. The chief tormentor of the Flying Eagles was Malian enterprising midfielder Seydou Keita. He later emerged as the Adidas Golden ball award winner.
Seydou Keita later went ahead to play for Lorient and Lens FC in France also played for Sevilla, Valencia, and Barcelona of Spain. He joined the Italian side AS Roma and later retired after staring for just one season with Qatari side El Jaish SC.
The defeat of the hapless Flying Eagles caused a lot of ripples in the sporting circle, with the eventual sack of Dutch Coach Thijs Libregts from the technical crew of the Nigeria U-20 national team. The team had a lot of potentials, but they could not fully utilize their full potential. Some notable players from that team include Joseph Yobo, Rabiu Afolabi, Julius Aghahowa, Haruna Babangida, and Late goalkeeper Sam Okoye.
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