Despite missing several of Nigeria’s brightest prospects, the Flying Eagles will be expected to mount a great challenge at next month’s African Youth Championship in Senegal.
Manchester City blocked Kelechi Iheanacho and Chidiebere Nwakali, Belgian club Genk also refused to release defender Wilfred Ndidi and Granada have held on to Isaac Success because the AYC is not on the FIFA calendar.
Tottenham Hotspur youth star Musa Yahaya was also ruled out of the competition after he suffered a knee injury in a recent test game.
However, it is to the credit of the Manu Garba-led technical crew that they have worked mostly with players based at home while foreseeing the possibility that foreign clubs will refuse to release players for the AYC.
And despite the absence of Iheanacho and others, the Nigeria U-20s will enjoy continuity from the U-17 World Cup-winning team of two years ago as eight players from that squad made the final cut – Sunday Alampasu, Musa Muhamed, Zaharadeen Bello, Samuel Okon, Akinjide Idowu, Abdullahi Alfa, Chidera Ezeh and Taiwo Awoniyi.
Others like Izu Omego, Mustapha Abdullahi, Ifeanyi Matthew, Bernard Bulbwa and Ibrahim Alhassan ‘Muazam’ were also in the setup of the U-17s Class of 2013.
The team have equally unearthed some raw diamonds who are poised to shine in Senegal – goalkeeper Joshua Enaholo, midfielders Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Obinna Nwobodo as well as Kwara Football Academy youngster Wasiu Jimoh.
Expectations are high that the Junior Eagles could now go all the way to clinch a seventh AYC for Nigeria in Senegal after heart-warming results in their build-up to the tournament.
They won in style an expanded Super 4 tournament involving the country’s top four clubs, before they played two warm-up games against perennial rivals Ghana, winning one and drawing the other.
The Flying Eagles play as a team with the fullbacks bombing up front to create or even score goals.
They are known to create numerous chances thanks to robust style of play and now the inclusion of Dolphins new signing Christian Pyagbara in attack could help them put away more of these openings.
Pyagbara played as a winger at both the 2013 AYC and FIFA U20 World Cup in Turkey, but he has now been moved to lead the attack with telling effect.
He featured at last year’s CHAN in South Africa and scored 14 goals in the league for Sharks.
The Flying Eagles are drawn in the tougher looking Group A along with hosts Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Congo.
The result of their opening game against Senegal in Dakar on March 8 will go a long way to define their campaign.
Coach Manu said the target is to qualify for the 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand as African champions.
The full squad:
Goalkeepers: Joshua Enaholo, Sunday Alampasu, Olorunleke Ojo
Defenders: Musa Muhamed, Zaharadeen Bello, Izu Omego, Mustapha Abdullahi, Samuel Okon, Abdulganiyu Saheed
Midfielders:Ifeanyi Matthew, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, Akinjide Idowu, Obinna Nwobodo, Bernard Bulbwa, Abdullahi Alfa
Strikers: Taiwo Awoniyi, Christian Pyagbara, Abdullahi Ibrahim Alhassan ‘Muazam’, Usman Saleh, Chidera Ezeh, Wasiu Jimoh