1999 FIFA World Youth Championship – Flying Eagles Wobble and Fumble At Home

In 1999, 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, with a 1-1 draw against lowly rated Costa Rica with Julius Aghahowa scoring the opener in the 20th minutes of play, before picking 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, and they fumbled before a capacity crowd that had come to cheer them to victory. The game against Paraguay 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 with the equalizing goal coming from diminutive striker Pius Ikedia in the 70th Minute. The game then went into penalty shoot out, and millions of Nigerians had their heart in their mouth throughout the duration of 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 Quarter final pairing between Nigeria and Mali.

The Flying Eagles had their work cut out, as found the Malians too hot to handle in the quarterfinal clash 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 who later emerges as the Adidas Golden ball award winner.

The defeat of the hapless Flying Eagles caused a lot of uproar 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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