Nigeria’s youth coach is confident that his team will be ready for the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) Under-17 World Cup in Chile in October.
The West Africans barely qualified after finishing fourth behind champions Mali, South Africa and Guinea in the African championship in Niger earlier this year.
Nigeria has won the global tournament four times, including the last one two years ago in the United Arab Emirates.
“We were erratic in the qualifiers, but we will improve in Chile because we have been working hard to prepare,” said coach Emmanuel Amuneke. “We have been drawn in a very interesting group against the host nation Chile and two strong countries in Croatia and the USA. The plan is to channel our preparation towards the first game against the United States knowing a bad start could have a negative effect on the team. Importantly, we need to remain focused and look at the areas where we can improve from the goalkeeping department to the attack.”
Amuneke was the assistant coach when Nigeria won the World Cup for a record fourth time in 2013 with a 3-0 win over Mexico in the final. On the way to the championship game, the Nigerians defeated the Mexicans 6-1, drew 3-3 with Sweden and shut out Iraq 5-0 in the group games.
In the round of 16, Nigeria beat Iran 4-1 to advance to the quarter-finals where they registered a convincing 2-0 victory over Uruguay. The Africans dominance continued in the semi-finals with a 3-0 win over Sweden.
The 2013 squad included Manchester striker Kelechi Iheanacho who was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and forward Taiwo Awoniyi who Liverpool has loaned to a Dutch club because he doesn’t have a British work permit.
Amuneke knows much will be expected from Nigeria which won the inaugural tournament in 1985 in China.
“I understand the fans’ expectations and my job is to take the pressure off these young boys,” he said. “Every winning team wants to win every tournament, but we should not create unnecessary euphoria because other teams have worked their socks off to get to Chile. It was certainly not the performance fans were looking for at the African championship. Nigerians deserve more and we should tell ourselves the truth that we are passionate when it comes to soccer. A lot of factors affected the team in Niger and we must ensure it does not repeat itself again.”
The 16th biennial Youth World Cup runs from October 17 to November 8 in eight Chilean cities.
Mali, which won the African tournament for the first time last March, is in the same group with Belgium, Ecuador and Honduras while South Africa is grouped with Costa Rica, North Korea and Russia. Guinea is in Group “B” with Brazil, England and South Korea.
Mexico, Argentina, Germany and Australia are in Group “C” and New Zealand, France, Syria and Paraguay are in Group “F”.
Meanwhile, Ghanaian Sellas Tetteh will be at the helm of the Sierra Leone national team until a fulltime coach is hired.
The 58-year-old, who coaches Ghana’s Under-20 team, has been contracted for three months. His first match will be an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against champions Ivory Coast on September 5.
Tetteh, who also coached Rwanda, will be in charge of Sierra Leone’s first 2018 World Cup qualifying home and away fixtures with Chad in early October. If Sierra Leone progresses to the second round, he will continue in the role against Egypt in November.