Nigeria?s U-20 side, Flying Eagles, are being touted as one of the favourites at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand following the imperious manner they won the continental title last March in Senegal.
Eagles? striker, Taiwo Awoniyi, who was? one of the stars when Nigeria won a record fourth FIFA U-17 World? Cup in? 2013 in the United Arab Emirates, has also been one of the Eagles? consistent performers? and one of the team?s top scorer in Senegal where he notched three goals in five matches.
Speaking exclusively with Cafonline.com ahead of the FIFA U-20 World Cup opening next Saturday, Awoniyi said he and his colleagues are not oblivious of the challenges ahead of them insisting that the coach Manu Garba-led side has the mentality to finally secure the country?s first gold medal at this level.
The Flying Eagles twice came close to winning the trophy in 1989 and 2005 but were stopped respectively by Portugal and Argentina, but the 18-year-old Awoniyi noted a successful championship for Nigeria in New Zealand was nothing but going all the way to win their Holy Grail. Excerpts
To start with, how do you feel being selected for the FIFA U-20 World Cup?
First and foremost, special thanks to God Almighty who has been the author of everything. Without him it (my selection) won?t have happened; and great thanks to our coaches for giving me the opportunity since my days in the Golden Eaglets (Nigeria U-17 team).
How challenging has it been playing at the U-20 level after graduating from the U-17 team?
It is very challenging because this is a team where almost everyone graduated from the U-17 side as such, everyone knows what is needed and expected to be able to play in the team when given the chance. Everyone is capable of playing anytime and one just has to keep faith; and hope to be selected.
Most of you were part of the team that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2013, how far can this team go in New Zealand?
Football is a game that is unpredictable but, I believe with the mentality this team got from day one, I want to talk of nothing else and God willing, we are going to win the trophy.
What kind of mentality are you talking about?
We have a winning mentality. In the team, we have unity and love for one another. There is also great love from our dad (coach Manu Garba) who we all see as coach that brought the belief of facing all game; that nothing will come out of it but victory in all the games we are going to play.
What are your own specific target being one of the team?s top scorers?
The first obligation as a striker is to help the team in winning all the matches. I will try my best to assist my team to victory and also score when the chance comes.
Were you surprised with the inclusion of Isaac Success and Kelechi Iheanacho who did not feature in qualifiers and training matches?
Our coach and other technical crews know the best thing for the team. But they (Success Isaac and Kelechi Iheanacho) are member of the family and without club issues, they would have featured in both the qualifiers and training matches. I was not surprised about their inclusion in the team since they are going to bring quality to the team.
Both players (Isaac and Iheanacho) are in direct competition with you in the attacking position, will their inclusion not affect you?
This is a team with a united family both on and off the field. Our prayer is for victory irrespective of who is playing. I believe anyone of us is capable of playing anytime.
What do you make of your chances against Brazil, Hungary and North Korea?
Like I said earlier, we have a winning mentality and we see nothing but victory anytime we are on the field. We hope to soar higher in New Zealand.
Brazil is one of the most successful teams at this level (with five titles). Are you not worried coming against them at the early stage of the competition?
We are a successful team also and we have talents too. We are not scared and we are not entertaining any fear at all.
Nigeria is yet to win the Under-20 World Cup despite coming close in 1989 and 2005; can you go all the way and win it?
Nobody knows what tomorrow holds but I believe with faith, prayer and hard work, we would get what we want. Winning the championship through the help of God would be a successful championship for us.