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Page last updated at 21:57 GMT, Saturday, 14 November 2009

Nigeria chase U-17 history

Oluwashina Okeleji
BBC Sport, Nigeria

Nigerian players celebrating
Nigeria's Golden Eaglets celebrate qualification to the U-17 final

It will be traditional heavyweights versus surprise upstarts when Nigeria and Switzerland contest the final of the Fifa Under-17 World Cup on Sunday.

The hosts are chasing an unprecedented fourth title, while debutants Switzerland will be desperate to spoil the party, and rightly so.

This is Switzerland's maiden appearance in this competition and they deserve to be in the final.

The Swiss were expected to depart the tournament early after they were drawn in a group comprising Brazil, Mexico and Japan in Lagos.

But the youngsters produced some breathtaking, and disciplined performances to dislodge all three illustrious teams and set tongues wagging.

Their scintillating football, individual class and unerring self-belief, helped them to overcome the likes of Germany and Italy before inflicting a crushing 4-0 defeat on Colombia in the semi-finals.

They play with composure, and eye-catching performance from Nassim Ben Khalifa, Haris Seferovic and Ricardo Rodriguez has played a vital part in their success thus far.

History is surely against the Swiss but this is certainly one tournament where pedigree and pre-tournament records have since been thrown out of the window.

The Swiss coach Dany Ryser is not overly complacent but confident his firing youngsters are capable of going one step better than their predecessors did 85-years ago.

For all their flashes of brilliance, Switzerland's last appearance in the final was in 1924.

It was at the men's Olympic football tournament in Paris, when the Swiss went down 3-0 to Uruguay.

But history beckons the technically gifted hosts and defending champions, who have never won the tournament outside Asia.

The Golden Eaglets have reached the final five times, winning in China 1985, Japan 1993 and Korea 2007.

With all previous success coming on Asian soil, the Eaglets faltered in the final of Canada 1987 and Trinidad and Tobago 2001, a fact that is not lost on Coach John Obuh.

"We've worked very hard to be able to defend our title and win a second consecutive World Cup" he said.

"We're going to do everything we can to keep our trophy for two more years."

He is probably stating the obvious as Obuh and his boys have been to hell and back.

Chaotic preparation coupled with a highly publicised age-cheat scandal rocked his team in the build-up to this tournament, leaving the softly-spoken coach with so much to do.

They started the tournament with an incredible fight-back from three goals down in their opening game against Germany.

But remarkable victories over Honduras and highly-fancied Argentina were enough to convince critics and cynics that the Golden Eaglets can become the most successful team ever at this level.

They blew away New Zealand, resilient South Korea and then Spain in the semi-finals to get to this stage.

Should inspirational midfielders Stanley Okoro and Ramon Azeez hit the right rhythm on Sunday, then supersub and tournament joint top scorer Sani Emmanuel can score the goals to clinch their fourth success.

In exciting strikers Omoh Ojabu and Edafe Egbedi Nigeria might think they have enough weapons to finally halt the Swiss.

But the stage is set for an intriguing final contest and this is one in the history of the tournament that is very difficult to call.

Whoever comes out winners will have a special place in the history of this competition.



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see also
Nigeria qualify for the World Cup
14 Nov 09 |  African
2009 Under-17 World Cup
01 Nov 09 |  African
Nigeria into under-17 final
12 Nov 09 |  African
Nigeria are U-17 world champions
09 Sep 07 |  African


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