"THREE is a magic number" goes the old song and Nigeria, the new FIFA U-17 winners, are unlikely to disagree. The tournament in South Korea, has now been held three times on Asian soil and, having scaled the heights in China 1985 and Japan 1993, the Africans will now leave the continent with their third global crown. Opponents Spain also experienced a hat-trick, having now reached three finals and tasted defeat in every single one.
Yemi Tella's Nigerians appeared potential candidates for the main prize right from the off, and were certainly not lacking in confidence. "We'll take the trophy back to Nigeria," announced the African champions' coach, and those words seem more than a little prophetic now. France, Japan, Haiti, Colombia, Argentina and Germany all fell by the wayside, unable to cope with tireless captain Lukman Haruna in midfield, technically superb duo Rabiu Ibrahim and King Osanga and goal-scorer extraordinaire Macauley Chrisantus.
Fearsome going forward, Nigeria proved against Spain in the final that they are also rock solid at the back. And while it was their forwards who took most of the plaudits in the earlier rounds, it was goalkeeper Oladele Ajiboye who emerged as the hero when it mattered, following 120 minutes of goalless football and a penalty shoot-out. Asier Illarramendi missed the target altogether, but Ajiboye denied both Fran Merida and Iago, which meant successful attempts from Matthew Edile, Daniel Joshua and Ganiyu Oseni earned the Golden Eaglets their third title to equal Brazil's record.
In the Spanish camp, some will no doubt wonder what could have been if Bojan had been leading the line. The FC Barcelona striker was in scintillating form until the semi-finals, only to miss out on the showpiece match through suspension, and Juan Santisteban's side were certainly weaker without his experience, technique and vigour. As a result, they end the tournament as runners-up, just as their predecessors did at Italy 1991 and Finland 2003.
Back on the global stage after an eight-year absence, Germany touched down in Korea without too much fanfare. They are generating plenty of noise now, though, proud and suitably content with their excellent third place finish at the expense of Ghana and after starting the competition as unknowns. Indeed, coach Heiko Herrlich was only appointed two months before the festivities began, but he was able to assemble a team that thrilled spectators with heavy doses of skill and suspense.
They also boasted the tournament's top player in Toni Kroos, who picked up the Adidas Golden Ball ahead of Nigeria's Chrisantus and Spain's Bojan. Scorer of five goals, the talented midfielder took his team to another level thanks to a combination of exquisite technique, outstanding vision and deadly set-pieces.
Chrisantus took the Adidas Silver Ball, but the deadly marksman is hardly wanting for awards of the golden variety. Aside from his gold medal as part of Nigeria's victorious team, he collected the Adidas Golden Shoe as top scorer with seven strikes. As for Bojan, the Spaniard lived up to all the rave reviews heading into the tournament and will long regret the second yellow card he picked up against Ghana in the semi-finals. Having just fired in the winner, the Barça ace denied himself a place in the final and perhaps even the Adidas Golden Ball itself when he received his marching orders during stoppage time.