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Flying Eagles’ ‘Group Of Death’ May Hurt Bosso Again




On Friday, April 21 at the headquarters of the world football ruling body FIFA, in Zurich, Nigeria’s U-20 boys’ national team the Flying Eagles were handed a very delicate group for the forthcoming World Championship in Argentina. The number three team in Africa was grouped along with five-time champions Brazil, Italy and the debutants Dominican Republic.

This group has since been described by most Nigerians as the group of death because they have lost confidence in their team and are of the opinion that the Flying Eagles might end up as the whipping team in the group. So, this is also the reason for the conclusion that the group is not good for Coach Ladan Bosso who desperately wants to make amends for his past failures with the team.

It is necessary to emphasise that soon as the draws were made, most Nigerians quickly perused the other groups and concluded that the Flying Eagles were unlucky not to have been handed ‘cheaper’ opponents like Uzbekistan, New Zealand and Guatemala who found themselves in group A with the hosts Argentina. This is one of the groups that some Nigerians erroneously believe the Flying Eagles would have scaled without much hassle. But such an assumption is wrong and can easily backfire because there is nothing like cheap teams at any world championship. Any nation that has qualified to compete at the world stage is never a pushover.

Well, even the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has since accepted the fact that the Flying Eagles are in a very difficult group. The statement from the federation’s communications directorate announcing the outcome of the World Cup draws said it all. “Flying Eagles must dig their feet into the ground against Brazil, Italy and Dominican Republic in order to scale the group phase of this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup,” said the NFF. The message simply underscored the fact the Flying Eagles are faced with an uphill task.

Since the NFF itself was honest enough to acknowledge the toughness of the group, there is no need to pretend that it is not too cold for comfort. Nigerians have every reason to worry over what is going to happen in Argentina beginning from May 20 because the performance of the Junior Eagles at the last edition of the AFCON in Egypt left much to be desired. Although they managed to pick one of the available World Cup tickets, the Flying Eagles were far from convincing. To say they played like sheep without a shepherd will be an understatement.
Therefore, even before the end of the tournament, it became clear that the team would need a surgical operation to firm it up for the bigger stage. Disappointed fans demanded for fresh legs to be scouted among young Nigerians who are presently making waves in the youth teams of some of the biggest clubs in Europe. So many suggestions on how to quickly raise a formidable squad for the World Cup were made by football experts in the country.

It was, therefore, consoling that the Head Coach, Bosso announced immediately after the underwhelming performance in Egypt that Nigerians would see an improved Flying Eagles at the World Cup.

However, for those who expected drastic or remarkable changes in the team, it was a huge disappointment when the coach recently released the list of players he has invited to camp for the final phase of preparations for the World Cup. One is not saying he should have thrown away all the boys who fought to qualify for the World Cup but almost all of them are still in the team. Again, some unknown players from unknown football academies still made the list. Unless, Bosso and the NFF have a better plan which they have kept as a top secret, there is no guarantee that those players listed can deliver. But we are talking about playing at the junior World Cup where the best of the best would converge.

Anyway, now that we have known Flying Eagles’ opponents in Argentina, it is time to face the reality. Despite our successes at the FIFA U-17 World Cup which we have won a record five titles, Nigeria is yet to win the U-20 World Cup which is a shame to say the least. We came close in 1989 and 2005 when the Flying Eagles finished as runners-up. We have also won one bronze medal in 1985. Even when we hosted the world in 1999, the Flying Eagles failed to soar high enough. Mali who finished third ended our dreams at the quarterfinals. And when another African country Egypt hosted the championship in 2009, Coach Samson Siasia who replaced the current handler failed with the Flying Eagles as they stopped at the Round of 16. It is therefore, disturbing that another opportunity for the Flying Eagles to atone for their miserable outing in the competition is being toyed with by those in charge of the team.

Personally, I sympathise with Bosso who must be sweating profusely because he knows deep down his heart that the task before him is enormous and capable of finishing what is left of his reputation as a coach. We all know that he has not been successful with the Flying Eagles. He is definitely not popular among Nigerian football fans when it comes to his romance with the national U-20 boys team.

Bosso’s most successful spell with the Flying Eagles was when he led the squad of 2007 to reach the quarter-finals in Canada. After his team was disgraced by Chile who trounced them 4-0, he hugged the headlines for the wrong reason when he sensationally accused English referee, Howard Webb, of racism. FIFA instantly charged him with “offensive behaviour” so he was banned for four months and also fined a handsome sum of money. After FIFA ban, he retained his position but was sacked in 2009 when the Flying Eagles finished third at that year’s AFCON. But Bosso bounced back after 11 years when he was reappointed in 2020. Despite his failure to qualify the team for the 2021 AFCON in Mauritania, he retained his position and is set to lead the Flying Eagles to another World Cup in Argentina.

The foregoing has shown clearly that Bosso is not deserving of his role as coach of the Flying Eagles but as a cat with nine lives, he is still there. So, we can only pray for him to use this present opportunity judiciously to redeem his sagging image.

In addition, one may be tempted to say he should maximise his last opportunity but with Bosso there is no final chance when it comes to coaching the Flying Eagles. After all, Nigeria is said to be the only country where failure is rewarded with even more juicy appointments.

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