Three-time champions Nigeria booked their place in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE with a 2-0 win over Uruguay in Sharjah. Taiwo Awoniyi – deputising for the injured Success Isaac – scored both goals in a game that was a true test of the Golden Eaglets’ title aspirations. The African favourites will now meet Sweden in the semi-final round, in a replay of their 3-3 Group F draw.
Uruguay had the first chance of note after only six minutes when Enrique Etcheverry crossed low through the penalty area. The impressive Leandro Otormin got a boot to the ball, but could only direct his effort wide of goal. It was a false dawn for the 2011 runners-up, however, as the Golden Eaglets took the game by the scruff of the neck after 18 minutes.
The Nigerians, who scored 18 goals in their four games heading into the quarter-final round, opened the scoring from a fabulous piece of creative interplay. Kelechi Iheanacho, scorer of five goals at these finals, laid on a wonderful through ball, perfectly weighted, from deep in midfield that was latched onto by Awoniyi. The striker made no mistake, hitting home to the back post for his second strike of the tournament.
Stunned into action, the South Americans had a decent spell shortly after. Kevin Mendez and Otormin both tested Dele Alampasu from distance with powerful efforts. But it was Nigeria who controlled most of the possession and created the more dangerous chances. Captain Musa Muhammed’s cross from the right after 34 minutes was only just missed on the doorstep by the tall and rangy Awoniyi, who was clearly in the mood for goals.
The second half started with a flurry of chances for Nigeria, Awoniyi and Musa Yahaya both going close to scoring after creating space for themselves at the edge of the penalty area. Uruguay were hanging on, absorbing wave after wave of Nigerian attacks. In the 68th minute, Iheanacho turned and fired from the edge of the box only for his shot to come flying off the back of a brave Uruguayan defender. It seemed only a matter of time before a second goal fell.
The knockout blow finally came in the 79th minute, and it followed the same pattern as the first Nigerian goal. Iheanacho picked up a perfect pass at the edge of the area from Chidiebere Nwakali and carried the ball toward goal with an elegant touch. The Uruguayan defence collapsed on the No10, but he had the presence of mind to pull the ball across the face of goal, where Awoniyi stabbed home inside the far post to send the fans into hysterics.
Manu Garba’s Nigeria now move on to their seventh U-17 World Cup semi-final, where they will face another thorough examination in the form of the organised and talented Swedes in Dubai.