“I thank God for the opportunity to win this award,” Nwakali said exclusively to FIFA.com after the final. “It means so much.”
The midfielder was quick to place the effort of his team-mates at the forefront of the conversation, making sure to praise their hard work and diligence throughout their time in Chile.
“Right from the game against the USA, when we arrived in Chile, our aim was to defend the trophy,” Nwakali said. “We believed the only way we could do this was hard work. We approached each game with hard work and seriousness. Any team that came to Chile worked for it.”
To play in a World Cup final and win the trophy is amazing. Not just winning it, but defending it.
Kelechi Nwakali, adidas Golden Ball winner and U-17 World Cup-winning captain.
That ethos saw Nigeria motor to the final, topping their group and flying past Australia and Brazil in the Round of 16 and quarter-final respectively before a titanic clash against Mexico.
“They are a strong side,” Nwakali said of El Tri. “We believed that when it came to U-17 level, they have been there and done it already. Even though we came from behind, we knew we had to work hard, that is our philosophy.”
Those continuing references to diligence and industry were selected carefully by Nwakali, aware as the mouthpiece of the team that he needed to set an example. Leading by example on the pitch in that rematch of the 2013 U-17 World Cup finale with a stunning goal from a free-kick, he helped set up an all-African final, for only the second time in the tournament’s history. That armband was tight on Nwakali’s arm as he led his side out in Vina Del Mar.
“Playing in the final is the dream of every young player,” the beaming No10 said. “To play in a World Cup final and win the trophy is amazing. Not just winning it, but defending it.”
Every young player certainly does dream of reaching a global final, and lifting the trophy as captain. Somewhere in Vina Del Mar, a young boy is probably still clutching that sacred piece of yellow piece of cloth tossed to him by a World Cup-winning captain, and dreaming of emulating Nwakali one day.