The hope for a third title for Nigeria was dashed when the Golden Eaglets lost out to Guinea via penalty shoot-out in the semifinals.
It’s been just over a decade that Nigeria won their last U17 AFCON title and surprisingly, just twice since the competition started in 1995.
In truth, two titles in 24 years is a poor return for a country of Nigeria’s status in African football. Nigeria have seven U20 AFCON titles, the most by any country and three senior AFCON titles but they have found little success in the U17s.
For the 2019 U17 AFCON, Manu Garba’s side showed enough to suggest that they could go all the way in Tanzania.
After failing to qualify for the previous edition, Nigeria came out tops in the 2018 WAFU Zone B tournament which served as the qualifiers to the 2019 U17 AFCON despite a 2-3 loss to Burkina Faso in the opener.
The likes of Akinwunmi Amoo, Olakunle Olusegun, Olatomi Olaniyan and Samson Tijani were brilliant as Nigeria went all the way to the final of the 2018 WAFU Zone B tournament to beat Ghana and qualify for the 2019 U17 AFCON.
Garba had managed to put together a group of players that had become cohesive and very difficult to beat but the loss of first-choice goalkeeper John Ikedinachukwu, regular right and left full back Babatunde Jimoh and Muhammed Ibrahim after they failed MRI test set the team back.
A chaotic 5-4 win over host Tanzania in their opening game of the 2019 U17 AFCON highlighted the weakness of the makeshift defence while the Golden Eaglets were also guilty of wasting several chances in front of goal.
Although the defence improved in subsequent games, their profligacies continued and it ultimately cost them against Uganda in the semifinals.
They would, however, take solace in the fact that their second best all through the 90 minutes against Uganda.
The Ugandans completely dominated them although Nigeria managed to muster some chances which they wasted.
They conceded a host of chances against Angola in the third-place game and were also ultimately undone by poor finishing.
From the bunch, the likes of Wisdom Ubani, Amoo, Olaniyan and skipper Tijani stood out.
Amoo was unstoppable in the first game of the tournament, getting his hands in three of Nigeria’s five goals of the game and was rightly named Man of the Match. He was, however, guilty of missing a host of chances in subsequent games but deserves praise for always being in the right places.
Ubani grabbed a brace in that game and finished the tournament as Nigeria’s top scorer with three goals.
Tijani was consistent all through the tournament and was Man of the Match in the 1-0 win over Angola in the group stage while forward Ibraheem Jabaar who deserves a mention with two goals for Nigeria
Primed for world prize?
The Golden Eaglets missed out on the title but they can hold their heads high after managing to grab a 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup ticket which was their main target before the tournament.
They should feel more at home at the FIFA U17 World Cup where Nigeria have a pedigree with five titles, the most in history.
But before the tournament in Brazil, Garba has a lot of work to do on his team and the U17 AFCON would have given him the opportunity to spot the weaknesses he has to fix it.