Nigeria make it three
In only the fourth FIFA U-17 World Cup final to go to penalty kicks, Nigeria kept their cool from the spot to beat Spain 3-0 after 120 scoreless minutes, taking the coveted trophy for the third time. The game took place on Sunday 9 September in the Seoul FIFA World Cup Stadium.
The hero for the Golden Eaglets was keeper Oladele Ajiboye, who saved two Spanish spot-kicks on a glorious night for Nigerian football. Under the watchful eye of coach Yemi Tella, the class of 2007 thus wrote their names alongside those who triumphed at China 1985 and Japan 1999.
Despite the lack of goals, the game was certainly not short of excitement, with both sides determined to go all out for victory. During the course of a breathless first half, it became clear that Spain coach Juan Santisteban had set his stall out with a fluid five-man midfield in a bid to dominate possession. In the absence of star striker Bojan, the responsibility fell to midfielders Fran Merida, Iago and Lukas to get forward and support Dani Aquino, ploughing a lone furrow up front for Spain.
Nigeria, for their part, took a more direct approach to unsettling the Spanish backline, with right-footed playmaker Rabiu Ibrahim arrowing high balls out to Ademola Rafeal and Ganiyu Oseni on the flank and to powerful front-runner Macauley Chrisantus.
Chances came and went for both sides during the hectic opening period. Nigeria went close on 29 minutes through left-sided midfielder Rafeal, whose effort slid past David de Gea's right-hand post. Spain struck back five minutes later, Sergio seeing his close-range shot cleared off the line with Ajiboye beaten.
After the break, Nigeria coach Tella withdraw Rafeal in favour of flying left-winger Sheriff Isa, yet the first chance of the second half fell to Spain one minute in, Aquino narrowly failing to get on the end of Isma Lopez's cross.
Nigeria continued to press forward, but the Africans struggled to create any real openings. After a couple of dangerous centres had come to naught, King Osanga took matters into his own hands on 57 minutes, drawing hearty applause from the passionate Nigerian supporters with a strike that had De Gea at full stretch. Spain, meanwhile, looked threatening on the counter, Fran Merida nearly breaking the deadlock on 69 minutes. The Arsenal starlet latched on to a lofted pass before cutting in from the left and firing in a shot which Ajiboye did well to save.
With just ten minutes of the 90 remaining, both coaches shuffled their packs: Tella freshening up his forward line and Santisteban tinkering with his midfield. Both sides could have settled the match in the dying moments. First Ajiboye saved from Aquino a minute into injury time, and De Gea then denied substitute Isa 60 seconds later, before Ajiboye prevented Fran Merida grabbing the winner in the third minute of added time.
The extra-time period proved equally compelling. On the 105-minute mark, Nigeria defender Kingsley Udoh had La Selección hearts in their mouths, his remarkable speculative effort from around 55 metres catching De Gea off his line only to come back off the crossbar. Eight minutes later Oseni found himself in a good position, only to blaze his effort over the top. Still the drama continued, Iago powering a fierce drive at goal on 117th that looked destined for the back of the net, only for Ajiboye to turn it away for a corner kick.
In spite of both sides' best efforts, the 0-0 scoreline refused to budge after 120 minutes of exhilarating action. Matthew Edile, Daniel Joshua and Ganiyu Oseni all made no mistake for Nigeria from the penalty spot, while Asier Illarramendi missed Spain's first kick before Ajiboye denied both Fran Merida and Iago to spark jubilant celebrations for the victorious Golden Eaglets.