In their second consecutive match playing before hostile 'home' fans, Nigeria earned themselves a spot in the grand final of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 with a comprehensive win over well-supported Morocco. Playing in front of what amounted to a hometown crowd at the Parkstad Limburg Stadium, the North Africans had no answer for Nigeria and smashing goals from Taye Taiwo, Olubayo Adefemi and Chinedu Ogbuke.
"We deserved to win today," head coach Samson Siasia said after the match. "We played very well from the opening whistle and to be honest, I feel like I'm dreaming. A place in the final is a miraculous thing."
A new home team rolled into the south of Holland hours before the semi-final. Chants of 'Maroc, Maroc' replaced 'Holland, Holland' in Kerkrade - where the hosts were eliminated in the last round by Nigeria.
Nigerian captain Promise Isaac, with both his right ankle and thigh wrapped, was cut down cruelly in midfield within the opening minute. Morocco were keen to show their intent from the outset. As the fans - well outnumbering their opponents' - whistled every Nigerian touch of the ball relentlessly, the Flying Eagles' number 10, rumoured to be playing hurt since the first match against Brazil, hobbled manfully back onto the pitch after some treatment.
The Moroccans quickly began to settle into their deft quick-passing game. With a sharp combination of hustle-bustle and sumptuous football, The North Africans began to take hold of the contest in the early going. But their supremacy didn't last long. In a tense first half full of shirt-tugging, and physical to-and-fro, the first chance of any substance fell to Marseilles full-back and finals stand-out, Taye Taiwo. His searing 25-yard free kick in minute 24 had Mohammed Bourkadi praying his spilled save wasn't turned in by the lurking John Owoeri.
Just minutes later the impressive Owoeri was again in the thick of things, but the Uruguayan referee was not swayed by the domestic-based forward's desperate pleas for a penalty. In a back-and-forth half, played at breakneck speed, the Nigerians began to take control after a dangerous opening salvo from the 'home' side.
Incredibly, Nigeria's left back has looked their best finisher throughout these finals. "I'm a modern fullback and I like to get forward," Taiwo recently told FIFA.com. And his 'modernity' was never more vividly on display than when, after collecting a square ball 30 yards out from Owoeri, he lashed a left footer just inside the far post to open the scoring and send the Moroccan fans into a state of stunned disbelief (0:1, 34').
Only able to lay claim to two shots on goal in the first half, the Moroccans looked to their foraging number nine, Mouhssine Iajour, to get things going in attack. His hard running and keen positional sense had him looking the dangerman early in the second period.
No hope for Morocco
But the relentless Nigerians were having none of it. Dele Adeleye met John Obi Mikel's corner kick in a blare, but his header could only smack against the upright in minute 55.
Surrounded by red, the small pockets of Nigeria fans were finally making themselves heard. And they were on their feet when Adefemi smacked his 20-yard free kick against the crossbar just two minutes later. Twice denied by the woodwork, a second goal seemed only a matter of time for the talented West Africans.
Tarik Bendamou fired a shot in retaliation in minute 68, but Ambruse Vanzekin was hardly troubled as it zipped over his crossbar. It was a false dawn for the Moroccans, though, as two minutes later Mikel's corner was nodded down and in by Adefemi, making amends for his earlier try against the frame (0:2, 70').
Suddenly, the Moroccan drums fell silent. Everyone in the ground knew the better team won the day. Ogbuke rubbed salt in the wounds when he headed in a third after a defensive mix-up (0:3, 75), before the Moroccans were reduced to nine men after two red cards in an impetuous last ten minutes.
Morocco boss Jamal Fathi was quick to point the finger of blame after the defeat. "We can play better than we did today, but the pressure from the fans, the media and everyone back home was just too much for such young players," he remarked ruefully.