Nigeria’s historic title defence at the just concluded FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile was down to collective team work from the players as well as the management.
But some youngsters distinguished themselves among their pairs, racking up unbelievable performances throughout the tourney – skipper, Kelechi Nwakali was one.
The Golden Eaglets defeated Mali 2-0 on Monday morning to clinch a record fifth U-17 title and break the jinx of never retaining the trophy.
Kelechi, 17, the younger of the two Nwakali’s was dropped from the Nigerian squad to the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, while his elder brother, Chidiebere was a key member of the team.
“I was in the pre-World Cup training squad in 2013 but didn’t make the squad that went on to win the trophy,” Nwakali told FIFA.com.
The team went on to conquer the world and the skipper added “My brother Chidiebere was there, though and of course I felt proud and happy for the other players.”
Two years on, the youngster has become the hero in his homeland and the most sort after player in the world under the age of 17 .
Both brothers are currently contracted to English giants, Manchester City alongside another Nigeria youngster, Kelechi Iheanacho.
Top scorer, Victor Osimhen, stole all the headlines with his record 10 goals, but it was his combative and charismatic skipper that was considered the Most Outstanding Player at the tournament.
The player contributed three goals and three assists among which was a spectacular free kick goal in the semi-final against Mexico with the Golden Eaglets one goal down.
Described by coach Emmanuel Amunike as “another God’s gift to Nigeria” earlier in the year, the young lad has gone ahead to carve his name in the history of the country and the game.
Nwakali who idolises City midfielder Yaya Toure, says “I love watching him play because he loves to win. That’s all he wants. You can see it in the way he plays, the way he runs and even in the way he walks on the pitch.”
Just like the Cote d’Ivoire skipper, Nwakali is a born leader who dictates instructions to his teammates on the pitch – no wonder his coach has this calm and collected look always.
He said: “I am sort of his right-hand man because he usually gives me instructions to pass on to the rest of my team-mates.”
Nwakali however showed his softer spot after the final by giving out his captain armband to a young Chilean fan.
The screaming fan caught the eye of the Nigeria No 10 from the stands directly next to the tunnel.
Nwakali waved at the young fan before rolling down his armband and throwing it towards the fan. It was caught by another supporter and passed to him.
After the game, the Golden Ball and Bronze boot winner said:
“I thank God for the opportunity to win this award. It means so much,” he told FIFA.com.
“Right from the game against the USA, when we arrived in Chile, our aim was to defend the trophy.
“We believed the only way we could do this was hard work. We approached each game with hard work and seriousness. Any team that came to Chile worked for it,” he added.
“Playing in the final is the dream of every young player,” the beaming No10 said. “To play in a World Cup final and win the trophy is amazing. Not just winning it, but defending it.”
Kelechi now joins the likes of Philip Osondu (1987), Sani Emmanuel (2009) and Kelechi Iheanacho (2013), as the Nigerians to have won the prestigious Golden Ball award.