Nigeria became the first team to reach the Round of 16 of the 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup finals in Brazil on Tuesday night on the back of a superlative hat –trick by forward Ibrahim Sa’id. Two goals in five second half minutes turned the table against a well –organized and cohesive Ecuador in Goiania.
Sa’id put Nigeria in front after only five minutes as goalkeeper Lopez made a hash of an attempted pass to his defender. An alert Sa’id intercepted and slotted past Lopez from outside the box.
The lively and tactically –disciplined South Americans were level five minutes later, as Mejia turned Ferdinand Ikenna from just outside the box and pulled the trigger. The ball grazed the upright and then went into the net off the back of goalkeeper Daniel Jinadu.
The Eaglets had endeavour, enthusiasm and pace, but were easily checkmated by the strong and highly coordinated Ecuadorians. Two minutes to the end of the first period, substitute Akinkunmi Amoo found Sa’id in the box, but the latter could not get the decisive touch needed to pull Nigeria level before the break.
Nine minutes into the second half, Ecuador were awarded a penalty by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) as Charles Etim had a slight contact with an advancing Ecuadorian attacker in a melee. Johan Mina sent Jinadu the wrong way to put the South Americans in the lead.
The Eaglets, five –time world champions, pushed, searched and frisked with determination, just as they did against Hungary in their first match before scoring three goals in six minutes in the second half to beat the Europeans 4-2 and bag the three points at stake.
Short and stray passes in the opposition’s critical zone, anxiety and wayward shooting did not help the Eaglets’ search for goals as time wore on.
However, substitutes Ibraheem Jabaar and Amoo had come close and captain Samson Tijani had fired over the bar before Sa’id drew Nigerian level in the 84thminute with a sweet, angled drive after receiving a pass from Jabaar.
Five minutes later, it was Sa’id again, blasting past Lopez from inside the box from a determined team move. Lopez got his hand to the ball but it was too hot to halt its flight into the net.
Jabaar went to the ground when he should have scored and Olakunle Olusegun shot narrowly wide in added time, but the Eaglets picked their three points for a maximum six in two matches and will await their opponents in the Round of 16, even as they travel to Brasilia for their last Group B game against Australia on Friday night.