Nigeria – Yes, Yes, Yes!
Nigeria became the most successful team in FIFA U-17 World Cup history with a 3-0 win over holders Mexico at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. The final was a rematch of the 6-1 win Nigeria inflicted on the Mexicans in Group F play and sees the Golden Eaglets lay hands on the junior world trophy for the fourth time in their history, one better than South American giants Brazil. When the final whistle went in the UAE capital, fans and players alike rejoiced, fingers pointed to the sky, with what has become the traditional Nigerian celebration of: “yes, yes yes!”
Mexico kept the ball for a full two minutes at the start of the game, moving it around well and making the Nigerians chase. El Tri even managed the first chance on goal after six minutes. Osvaldo Rodriguez crossed from the left, but Alejandro Diaz couldn’t keep his close-range effort the right side of the post. Two minutes on and Ivan Ochoa – who scored twice in the semi-final win over Argentina – saw his off-balance header pushed over the bar by Dele Alampasu.
The corner came to nothing for the Mexicans, but Nigeria benefitted greatly by bursting out on a classic counter-attack. Kelechi Iheanacho went flying up the pitch. With just one Mexican defender in position, the No10 Golden Eaglet laid the ball in for Taiwo Awoniyi who then fed it on to Musa Yahaha, who had a little help from Erick Aguirre. The Mexican midfielder mistakenly hit the ball into his own net in an attempt to recover.
With the score 1-0, Musa Muhammed was giving the Mexicans fits with his rampaging runs up the right side. He pinned the opponents back at every opportunity. As the first half pushed toward the interval, the Africans upped their tempo in search of a second goal. Yahaya rattled the crossbar with a stunning effort from 20 yards out after 38 minutes. Pressure was mounting and the fans in the stands were on their feet when Awoniyi’s bicycle-kick from the penalty spot forced Raul Gudino into a magnificent reaction save in the dying moments of the half.
The second period began with a frenzy of attacks at both ends of the pitch, but it was Nigeria who made theirs count, making it 2-0 in the 56th minute. Captain Muhammed unleashed a wicked swirling shot that Mexican keeper Gudino simply couldn’t hang on to. He spilled a rebound directly to the feet of the most dangerous man on the pitch, and Iheanacho made no mistake dispatching his sixth goal of the tournament.
With a quarter-hour to go, Mexico managed to carve out a rare second-half chance, but Ochoa’s header from close-range slipped wide of the post as the holders began to wilt under the ceaseless pressure of the buzzing Nigerians. Muhammed added a third with ten minutes to go, curling a sublime free-kick into the top corner.
Anyone in UAE who had the pleasure to see them will tell you that this Nigerian team were the best on offer. Even a few of the Mexican fans were mumbling “yes, yes, yes” when the final whistle went on Nigeria’s glorious campaign here in UAE.