In a thrilling encounter, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria secured their place in the knockout stage of the CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations after completing a comeback to defeat South Africa 3-2 in their last Group B game.
Coach Nduka Ugbade made two changes to the team that lost to Morocco in their previous game, with Light Eke and Charles Agada coming into the starting lineup at the expense of Precious Williams and Favour Daniel. The changes proved effective as the Eaglets started the match like a house on fire, with Hope Linus having two long-range shots in the first few minutes of the game.
Despite the Eaglets’ early dominance, South Africa scored the first goal of the match in the sixth minute after a corner kick that saw Vicky Mkwawana hit a rebound with a fierce low shot. Nigeria fought back and equalized through Abubakar Abdullahi in the 33rd minute after a passage of promising play. Charles Agada then put the Eaglets in the lead with a powerful header from a corner in the 34th minute.
Siyabonga Mabena scored for South Africa just before half-time, going past three defenders to unleash a shot that initially went underneath the bar but bounced back into play. However, Nigeria restored parity within 30 seconds into the second half as Light Eke swept home the ball after a cross by Charles Agada. Abdullahi then secured the victory for Nigeria with a goal in the 64th minute after rounding off a blistering counter through the middle.
Although the Eaglets pushed for a fourth goal, they were unable to convert their chances, with Eke’s shot hitting the woodwork with about 20 minutes left on the clock. Nevertheless, their impressive performance saw them end the group campaign as the second-placed team in Group B behind Morocco, who were beaten 2-1 by Zambia.
The Eaglets’ qualification to the knockout stage is a significant achievement for the team and Nigeria as a whole. They will now face the winner of Group A in the quarterfinals, with the hopes of making it to the final and ultimately winning the championship.