Nigerians have eyes on prize

ROB BRODIE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

For nearly two decades, they've been the standard bearers of African youth soccer.

But Nigeria isn't satisfied just yet. Far from it, to be sure.

And so it is that, two years after reaching the final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the Flying Eagles clearly know how high they have to soar to consider the 2007 tournament in Canada a total success.

"Since we were back home in Nigeria, our target has been to reach the final and win the trophy," striker Brown Ideye said about the team's ultimate goal this month.

So far, so good for the Nigerians, who face African rival Zambia in a Round of 16 match tomorrow at Frank Clair Stadium (4:45 p.m., GolTV). They went 2-0-1 in preliminary-round play, with only goal differential denying them top spot in Group F behind Japan.

The two sides played a scoreless draw Saturday in Victoria. Nigeria has yet to allow a goal in the tournament, earlier blanking Costa Rica 1-0 and Scotland 2-0.

In 2005, Nigeria reached the title match of the U-20 World Cup, falling to Lionel Messi and Argentina 2-1 in the final. This followed a remarkable quarter-final in which the Flying Eagles ousted host the Netherlands 10-9 on penalty kicks.

Nigeria was also a finalist in 1989, falling to Portugal 2-0. It placed fourth when the event was held in its homeland 10 years later.

Clearly, the African nation of 134 million has established itself among the global elite at the youth level. But there is one prize missing, one this squad has in its sights.

"Everyone has a different culture," coach Isah Ladam Bosso said. "The Nigerian culture is not to remain the same. We want to have an improvement over the last (World Cup).

"When we left Lagos, we prepared to come here and play very well ... (We want) to take something home. But before you take something home, you have to win."

ANOTHER SELLOUT: Tournament officials announced yesterday that Sunday's quarter-final match at Frank Clair -- which could feature powerhouses Argentina and Mexico -- is now officially a sellout. It's the third full house of 26,500 out of five U-20 World Cup match dates in Ottawa. A few thousand tickets remain for tomorrow's Nigeria-Zambia match, meaning the pre-tournament target of 20,000 per game has long been eclipsed.


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