Hosts and Holders Nigeria thundered through to beat Spain 3-1 in the semi-final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Lagos. The Spaniards never quite looked up for the contest, a re-play of the 2007 final, at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, as the Golden Eaglets continue to improve with every outing here on home soil. The Africans will now face Switzerland – who beat Colombia 4-0 in their semi-final – in a tantalising grand final in Abuja.
The Nigerians came out flying at the start, and after only six minutes the young Eaglets signalled their intent via a powerful strike from Aigbe Oliha. Fortunately for the Spaniards, the try was all power and no control and flew up and over the bar. The hosts were controlling all the possession in the early stages, Edafe Egbeda’s effort from the edge of the box was only just cleared away at the last by a sprawling Sergi Gomez.
Things went from bad to worse for the Europeans in the 23rd minute when a tearful Iker Muniain had to be substituted after suffering what looked a serious muscle strain. And their suffering worsened still when the holders opened the scoring on the half-hour mark with a fabulous goal. Collecting a long, looping ball from midfield fully in his stride, the outstanding Stanley Okoro broke into the area, baited the Spanish keeper and slipped the ball just inside the near post to an almighty roar from the massive crowd.
Spain, who created one chance of note in the opening period through the impressive Isco, headed into the locker-rooms with their heads hanging understandably low as the partisan crowd cheered off their smashing heroes.
La Rojita came out from the break with renewed vigour. Just three minutes into the half Jordi Amat forced Nigerian keeper Dami Paul into a fine diving save. Then, on the hour mark, Paul needed to be sharp again when a flicked-on free-kick from Isco required him to dive at full-stretch to his left to keep the ball out. Just seconds later, however, the Nigerians put the game out of reach. Almost predictably, the scorer was supersub Sani Emmanuel. The new man grabbed his fourth goal of these finals when he pounced on the end of a long throw-in that bobbled around dangerously in the Spanish penalty area.
The hottest substitute in all the land then added a third in the 71st minute, chasing down a long ball, collecting well on the chest and poking expertly past the Spanish keeper to make it 3-1. The superb strike also moves the My People hit-man to the top of the scorers’ chart at Nigeria 2009.
The Spaniards, who pulled a late goal back through Borja (also on five goals) in the 83rd minute, are out of the running despite some fine performances here at the finals. Defending U-17 champions Nigeria now move on to a mouth-watering final against the high-flying Swiss in Abuja on 15 November.