UTRECHT: Strange but true – these teenagers love discipline.
Nigeria, so often a nation whose soccer teams fall victim to squabbling and chaos, now has a side which has run through a three-week tournament with nary a hitch.
Coach Samson Siasia has led the Flying Eagles into today's final of the World Youth Championship where they could win Africa's first world youth title if they beat Argentina.
“When the time comes, you have to know who the boss is,'' said Siasia, who only selected his squad a few months ago and since turned them into a tightly knit team which does not buckle.
In their opening match, the Flying Eagles contained defending champion Brazil 0-0.
With seconds ticking down against revelation Ukraine in the second round, defender Taye Taiwo scored with a blistering drive to get them into the quarter-finals.
They then survived a 24-penalty shootout to beat the hosts, Holland, and in the semi-finals they kept their cool against a hostile Moroccan team and crowd to clinically eliminate their fellow Africans 3-0.
“You pray a lot and sometimes things like this happen,'' Siasia said. “You go to the next round, you keep going to the next round until you win the cup.''
Siasia is especially proud of the way the players are disciplined under pressure.
With half the starting line up facing suspension from the final if they earned a yellow card against Morocco, only defender Onyekachi Apam will miss out on facing Argentina.
Despite provocation, midfield playmaker and captain John Obi Mikel swatted off many challenges and never retaliated.
“We just tried to play cool,'' said Mikel. – AP
Today's final against Argentina also brings back memories of the Nigeria's biggest soccer triumph so far – winning gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
And Mikel already knows the recipe for success.
“We just have to play to instructions. We just have to stay focused and play like we normally do. We always have to play to instruction,'' Mikel said. – AP