Three-time champions Nigeria left little to doubt when they opened their FIFA U-17 World Cup campaign against twice champions and holders Mexico in Al Ain, winning out by an emphatic 6-1 scoreline. The result piles more unhappiness on the Mexican nation, whose senior team is experiencing a crisis in senior FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, while Nigeria sit comfy and cozy at the top of Group F.
Nigeria looked nervous early, but the Mexicans were unable to take advantage of their opponents’ trepidation. Striker Ulises Jaimes had a chance to score with his head after only three minutes, but the ball was deflected wide of danger by the scrambling African defence.
With a half-hour gone, and after a few more Mexican half-chances, the Africans had settled into their rhythm. That was bad news for Mexico. With 33 minutes gone, the speedy Golden Eaglets were through on a counter-attack. Success Isaac, who scored seven times in the African qualifiers, raced in and rounded the goalkeeper, pulling the ball back across goal. Kelechi Iheanacho followed the play and produced a clever finish, hitting the ball high into the net to get over a pair of Mexican defenders.
Seven minutes later, the No10 – hands-down the best player on the pitch – scored again. The pattern was the same, Isaac crossing from the left after a fast-break and Iheanacho keeping his cool, cutting inside and showing great patience to drift past two defender and slam into the side netting.
The Nigerians celebrated wildly in front of their large banks of fans, but their enthusiasm got the better of them as they conceded a goal a minute later. Still in dreamland, the African defenders failed to clear their lines and the ball fell kindly for Jaimes in the area, with the Morelia youngster rounding his man to score low in the corner.
The Mexican euphoria couldn’t last, however, and Iheanacho had his hat-trick seconds into the second-half. With the ball flicked on from a long throw-in, the livewire Nigerians whacked it home, low and hard, at the near post to make it 3-0 for the rampaging Eaglets. It was 4-0 three minutes later, when Chidiebere Nwakali fired in from 25 yards, signaling a certain rout as the Nigerian fans chanted for more, more, more.
Isaac provided it on the hour-mark when he raced on to a through-ball, bamboozled two tired and devastated Mexican defenders and fired inside the near post from 12 yards out. With 30 minutes to go, the irrepressible Iheanacho bagged his fourth goal. He cut in from the right side and unleashed a vicious strike from a long way out that Gudino got his finger-tips to, but had no chance of keeping out of the top corner to make the final score a frightening 6-1.
Up next for the impressive Nigerians is a date with Scandinavian debutants Sweden in three days’ time, when Mexico try to get things back on track against Iraq.