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Nigeria's Youthful World Cup Team Draws Attention - 2002-06-04


The International Football Federation, FIFA, says the three youngest players at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea are all on Nigeria's team.

When Nigeria lined up for its opening World Cup match Sunday against Argentina in Ibaraki, Japan, one of the starters for the African squad was 17-year-old striker Bartholomew Ogbeche.

But Ogbeche, who plays professionally in France for the club Paris Saint Germain, is not the youngest player on "The Super Eagles" of Nigeria. That honor goes to another striker, Femi Opabunmi, who did not see action in the 1-0 loss to Argentina. Opabunmi is also 17, but he is five months younger than Ogbeche.

In fact, FIFA says, if you consider Nigeria's 18-year-old reserve goalkeeper, Austin Ejide, "The Super Eagles" have the three youngest players at this World Cup.

Keith Cooper, FIFA's director of communications, said young players like Ejide, Opabunmi and Ogbeche are symbolic of a changing of the guard in Nigerian football. "Well, I think it is inevitable. Nigeria is one of those teams in Africa that constantly produces young players of brilliant natural talent, as we've seen in the under-17 and under-20 age groups, in the world championships at those age levels. It's good to see some of the young players coming through," he said. "They are remarkably young, at 17-years-old. It is true that the great generation of Nigerian players is maybe beginning to move on. It's good to see these young guys coming into the squad to gain experience. Maybe this might not be their year, but with these young fellas, in four years time, in Germany [host of the 2006 World Cup], moving into their early 20s, they'll be moving into their prime."

Nigeria will play its next World Cup match Friday against Sweden in Kobe, Japan. The team reached the second round in its two previous World Cup appearances, in 1994 and 1998. However, with its opening loss to Argentina, the squad will have a tough time repeating here in Japan.

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