FIFA U-17 WORLD CUP: Nigeria striker Osimhen living up to his promise
Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen arrived at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 as a serious candidate for the Adidas Golden Boot. Who, after all, could argue with his record of 39 goals in 71 appearances for the national team before the tournament started?
Those figures clearly spoke for themselves, and Osimhen has not disappointed since touching down on South American soil. At the end of the group stage, the 16-year-old forward sat joint top of the scoring table with Germany’s Johannes Eggestein, both players having found the net four times. He has scored in all three games he has contested, with his standout performance against the hosts yielding two goals and an assist.
Beyond the figures, and his obvious composure in front of goal, Osimhen has also impressed with his ability to get his team-mates involved in play. “If people are really talking about me, that makes me proud,” he told FIFA.com. “I always knew it would be hugely satisfying to get the chance to show what I can do in a tournament like this.”
The Golden Eaglets’ vice-captain is no stranger to taking the scoring prize in a major finals either. Back in March, he outstripped his rivals at the CAF African U-17 Championship. “That’s true, but scoring goals in a World Cup is different,” he explained. “Everything I’ve been through here has been an incredible experience.”
Osimhen certainly does not seem to be withering under the weight of expectation, despite much being made of his talents before and since the big kick-off in Chile. “I feel no pressure at all,” he said. “We’ve had the same staff in place for a while now and they’ve taught me to manage it, and also how to manage the support from the fans and any intimidation from opposition players. I’m ready for all of that.”
Many of the finest forwards have been similarly adept at coping with pressure, and Osimhen’s own idol comes as little surprise. “Didier Drogba is my role model,” he said. “He represents the kind of player and person I’d like to be. I hope to develop the same ability to use the ball and score important goals. He’s an icon, a legend. I’d love to be able to play like him – or even better.”
The youngster’s confidence is eye-catching, but it also owes much to a broader sense of belief within the Nigeria squad. The 2013 winners travelled to Chile as potential champions once again, and they have lived up to that billing so far. “Our first objective was to play well, and we’ve done that. Our second is to lift the trophy. As holders, there’s no point aiming any lower.”
Question marks were nonetheless raised when Nigeria ended their Group A duties with a loss to Croatia, but Osimhen and his team-mates remain as ambitious as ever. “We weren’t as focused as we’d been in our first two games and we paid the price,” he explained, visibly unshaken by the loss. “We eased up a little because we’d already qualified, but that’s no excuse. The team is doing well.”
‘Team’ is a word that Osimhen comes back to time and time again, and he admits it is an important one in his outlook – and that of his colleagues. “Our previous U-17 squads, like the 2013 side, perhaps depended on individuals too much, but that’s not the case with us. We don’t depend on any one player: we play as a team, we win as a team and we lose as a team.”
That team now face Australia in the Round of 16, and Osimhen already has a good idea of what to expect from the tie. “I’m hoping it’ll be an open game, with our opponents launching attacks that will leave spaces for us.” Either way, there is little doubt that he will be prepared. While most players spend their free time relaxing or enjoying themselves, Osimhen is set to be otherwise occupied in the lead-up to the game. “I stay in my room and think about what we have to do to win.” The Joeys might want to consider doing likewise.