Nigeria, who won their first game in UAE 6-1 over Mexico, showed some defensive frailties in their 3-3 draw with Sweden at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain. The Scandinavians, playing in their first FIFA U-17 World Cup, stuck to their game-plan and were thoroughly deserving of their share of the spoils against the Group F favourites as both sides now look in good shape to reach the knockout rounds.
The Swedes only needed 11 minutes to shock the much-feared Golden Eaglets, and the goal came from a hopeful ball lofted into the penalty area from deep in midfield. Nigerian keeper Dele Alampsu thought he had a chance at intercepting and raced out of his net, but Erdal Rakip got to the ball first and nodded across the face of goal. Valmir Berisha was on the spot to guide the ball home on the volley.
It was 2-0 to the Scandinavians eight minutes later when Anton Saletros bamboozled his man on the left flank and crossed deep into the penalty area. Berisha showed he was in the mood as he expertly headed home his second goal of the contest.
The Nigerians, traditionally slow starters, hit back in spectacular fashion with one of the best goals of the tournament. Kalechi Iheanacho, four-goal scorer against Mexico, floated in a ball from midfield. It was met by Success Isaac, who swiveled and slammed into the far corner without the ball ever hitting the grass, all in one motion, in the 20th minute.
The Africans then went close to drawing level twice in the last five minutes of the half. Samuel Okon tried an audacious lob from 40 yards that had Sixten Mohlin in the Swedish goal back-peddling desperately, before tipping over the bar. Shortly after, substitute Taiwo Awoniyi’s snap-shot was saved again by Mohlin, the effort not able to match the outstanding approach work up the right side.
Mohlin went from hero to villain for the Swedes early in the second half. He failed to get his body behind the ball when Musa Yahaya tried a speculative shot from way out. The ball trickled between the keeper’s legs and bobbled, almost apologetically, over the line as the tried desperately to recover.
The Nigerians were in the driving seat, and the Swedes were increasingly camped in their own half. But a fast-break up the left side in the 65th minute saw Sweden back into the lead. Saletros chested the ball on goal from close range and Alampsu could only parry away. Unfortunately for the keeper, substitute Mirza Halvadzic was lurking on the doorstep and slid home to make it 3-2.
But the talented and irrepressible Africans still had something left in the tank. Awoniyi’s powerful header with ten minutes to go was too much for Mohlin to keep out and the game ended honours even. Nigeria now move on to Dubai, where they will take on Iraq in their last match of the section on 25 October, the same day that Sweden meet Mexico in Al Ain.