Nigeria were made to work for their 3-0 semi-final win over Sweden in Dubai, a result that sends them to the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Taiwo Awoniyi scored his third goal in two games to help send the Golden Eaglets through to the final, where they will meet Mexico in another Group F rematch.
The game started at a tremendous pace, both sides carving out half-chances inside the first 60 seconds. After the initial frenzy of attacks cooled, the pattern of play became clear. The Nigerians pressed forward in waves, trying to pin Sweden back and cut off the supply lines to foraging striker Valmir Berisha.
The Africans were far more dangerous in the first half and they got the goal their dominance deserved after just 21 minutes. It was the same combination that produced both goals in the quarter-final win over Uruguay as Kelechi Iheanacho – one of the best players here in UAE – pushed the ball up through midfield and chipped in a looping pass for Awoniyi, who hardly had to break stride before pummeling past Sixten Mohlin for his third goal in two games.
Iheanacho continued to be a thorn in the Swedes’ side, no wonder considering he’s scored five of Nigeria’s goals and assisted on seven. The Scandinavians seemed to wilt in the heavy heat and humidity of their first game in Dubai.
Only seconds had ticked off the clock in the second half when Chidera Ezeh headed against the upright. It was a warning from the free-attacking Nigerians, who kept pressing for a second goal.
Coach Roland Larsson threw on big striker Carlos Strandberg for the last half-hour, desperately trying to find a way to breach the Nigerian rearguard. But the Eaglets kept pushing. Musa Yahaya tried an effort from the corner of the box in the 66th minute that skimmed the outside of the post. Awoniyi had the ball in the net a few seconds after, only to be denied by an offside call, much to the chagrin of the partying fans in green.
Sweden would not go quietly, and Strandberg nearly volleyed home with a quarter-hour to go, only to be denied by Alampasu. The resulting corner kick was headed hard at goal by Linus Wahlqvit, but his try was saved again by the Nigerian keeper, who had his gloves on the right way around at the Rashid Stadium.
In the end, the Nigerians were in no mood to be charitable. They got their insurance goals inside the last ten minutes. Samuel Okon cut in from the left and hammered his shot low and inside the post to end Sweden’s dream. It was all over even before Chidera Ezeh added a third seconds later to make it 3-0 and send Nigeria to the final, where they will be pressing hard for their fourth title.