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Samson Tijani: Golden Eaglets not under pressure to deliver in Brazil

Ahead of the opening match of the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil, captain of the Golden Eaglets Samson Tijani has said the team…

Ahead of the opening match of the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil, captain of the Golden Eaglets Samson Tijani has said the team is under no pressure to deliver their sixth title in Brazil. In this interview with Trust Sports, the enterprising midfielder spoke on the team’s preparation and the need to win their opening match of the campaign against Hungary on Saturday (today) in Goiania, Brazil.


The opening match of the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup comes up on Saturday against Hungary. How prepared is your team for the big challenge?

I believe we are going to do very well in our first match. We have been working hard and I know for sure that if we can put into practice what we have learnt, we won’t disappoint our coaches and Nigerians back home. We are ready for the task before us.

How important is a victory in the opening match to the Golden Eaglets?

We must win our first match because victory will boost our morale. It will give us the confidence to push harder. We all are aware that winning the first game in any championship is very important. Once you win every other thing falls into place. We are therefore targeting victory in our first match to get the necessary motivation going forward.

Apart from Hungary, there is Ecuador and Australia in Group B. Which of the three opponents do you think will be the most difficult to beat?

For me, all the teams are just the same. Any team that has qualified for the World Cup cannot be a pushover. They certainly have something going for them. So our attention is on all the teams. Sometimes when you over concentrate on one team, the one you underrated will hold the biggest surprise for you.

The Golden Eaglets have spent close to two weeks in Sao Paulo. Would you say you and your teammates have fully acclimatized?

We have acclimatized greatly. We train at different times of the day because our coaches know how the weather is and they try to condition us accordingly. So I can say that coming to spend days in Brazil is of immense help to us. We have adjusted to the weather and the environment and it won’t be too difficult for us to play here.

Your team played three friendly matches in Sao Paulo. What lessons did you learn?

I think we have learnt a lot because by losing to Sao Paulo, we discovered the need to concentrate until the end. Against South Korea, they were leading us, but we kept pushing till we equalised. For the match against Japan, I can’t say exactly why we lost that match. But I think we failed to do the right things. We learnt useful lessons from these games. We shall try not to repeat the same mistakes in the World Cup.

Considering that Golden Eaglets are five-time winners of this tournament would you say the team is under pressure to deliver?

We are not under pressure. We are going to take one game at a time. I have confidence in my teammates. Our predecessors did very well in this youth championship so we would want to follow in their footsteps. I believe in our coaches and all that they have taught us. We shall put these lessons to good use beginning from Saturday. So to answer your question, we are not under any form of pressure to perform in Brazil. We’ve been told to go out there and enjoy ourselves not forgetting the trophy at stake.

How much support would you say the team has enjoyed from the Nigeria Football Federation?

The federation has done a lot for us. They took us to Turkey for a training tour where we played some friendly matches. And when we returned to Nigeria, we continued with the training. The federation also made sure we arrived in Brazil early enough for more tune-up matches. This is great motivation and we appreciate them for this.

Some of your teammates didn’t make the final list, who among them do you miss the most?

I miss all of them. They are good players. The coach couldn’t select all the players who were in camp so we have to accept it and move on. However, I call on every one of them to continue to pray for us. They are still part of this team.

How easy was it for you to make the final squad for the World Cup?

It was not easy because there were so many good players who came for the screening. And considering that it was a rigorous exercise, I kept on pushing to make the final list. Although I am the captain of the team, it was not a stroll in the park for me. I worked hard to make the final list.

Have you set any personal target going into the Championship?

I just pray to play well in every game and be a good leader for us to win the trophy. I don’t have a personal target, but if I am the one who is going to lift the trophy on the final day that will be the icing on the cake for me.

As the team captain, how do you combine playing with guiding your teammates?

On the pitch, I play as a coach since I co-ordinate my teammates, especially when they are losing concentration. As a leader, you must be able to know when something is going wrong. One good thing is that my teammates accept my advice. I don’t keep quiet because I will be the first to take the blame if anything goes wrong. Most times I take instructions from the coaches and pass them on to my teammates. However, I try to focus on my primary assignment on the field which is to play and play very well.

What is your message to the teeming fans of the Golden Eaglets?

I just want to say they should continue to pray for us so that we don’t make costly mistakes in our matches. At this level, any mistake can prove costly. Once you concede, you may not be able to recover. So they should keep praying so that we would make them happy. So my message and appeal to our teeming fans is that prayer is the master key, keep praying for God to favour us.

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