Debutants Switzerland were not at all troubled by the 60,000-plus hostile fans in Abuja’s hulking National Stadium, beating hosts and holders Nigeria 1-0 in the capital to hoist aloft the FIFA U-17 World Cup trophy on Sunday. The win, which came thanks to a steely defensive effort and a second-half header by Haris Seferovic, marks the first time a Swiss national team – any age, any gender – has ever laid claim to a FIFA title.
The hosts came out like a house on fire, putting heavy pressure on the Swiss and creating a handful of scoring chances inside the opening five minutes. First, Abdul Ajagun – hero of the quarter-final with the Koreans in Calabar – hit a wicked shot from 18 yards that Charyl Chappuis had to clear off the line. The Dolphin striker then repeated the dose just seconds later to give the Switzerland defence a real scare. Next, and after just four minutes, Aigbe Oliha’s effort from distance had Swiss goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist scrambling to turn it away.
A lengthy pause in the action – with injuries to Ajagun and Siegrist after a collision – marked the moment when the Swiss finally carved out their first chance. Predictably, it came on the end of a counter-attack in the 12th minute. Defender Janick Kamber roared into the attack and forced the diminutive Nigerian net-minder Dami Paul into a fine diving save.
Things settled down a bit after a ferocious opening quarter-hour, but the smashing and dynamic Nigerians continued to pile pressure on their stunned hosts. A nice piece of service from the right, after some fine interplay between Edafe Egbedi and Oliha, nearly picked out Sani Emmanuel. But the supersub-turned-starter failed to make proper contact with his header from six yards. With a little over five minutes to go in the opening period, Ramon Azeez had a good chance from a set-piece that he could only manage to blaze over the bar. Creating all the chances, but failing to convert, the Nigerians – who had an excellent chance through Emmanuel in the dying moments – went into the changing rooms looking a little nervous, while the Swiss were happy just to be all-square.
The Swiss came out of their defensive shell at the start of the second half, and Haris Seferovic had a golden chance to put the Europeans into the lead in the 57th minute. Turning well at the edge of the area, the Grasshopper Zurich ace somehow conspired to hit his left-footed drive wide with the whole goal to shoot at. He made amends only six minutes later, however, when he leaped highest in the Nigerian penalty area to head a corner-kick over Paul and into the far corner for his fifth goal of the tournament.
The hosts, stunned into response, poured everything forward in a frenzied attack. In the end, though, the best efforts of Emmanuel, Ajagun and Okoro (who hit against the bar with a quarter-hour to go) failed to find a way through as the disappointed hosts miss out on claiming their fourth overall and second consecutive U-17 title. The Swiss, who win their first-ever international crown, can take tremendous pride in being the first team at these finals to keep the previously free-flowing hosts off the scoreboard.