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THREE FOR THE WIN! Hattrick hero Ibrahim Sai'd shows how many goals he scored

Hattrick hero Ibrahim Sai’d willl claim the lion share of the plaudits, but it was another gutsy, unyielding team performance that carried Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets over the line as they came from behind to stun Ecuador 3-2 and advance to the 2019 FIFA Under 17 World Cup quarterfinals.

Sai’d pounced on a goalkeeping error from Lopez to open the scoring after just five minutes. That was also how much time it took Ecuador to draw level, Mejia’s shot helped in off goalkeeper Daniel Jinadu’s back.

Mina despatched a dodgy penalty to put Ecuador in front nine minutes into the second half before the Golden Eaglets blitzed the last 10 minutes to claim a stupendous win and book their place in the knockout phase.

We have a few takeaways from the win

It has been a wee while since Nigerians have seen a team so determined not to lay down and die.
For the second game in a row, the Eaglets came back from 2-1 down to win. As good as the scoreline was, what was even more remarkable was the spirit they showed.
Whether ahead or behind, the team played with guts and with fire in their bellies. They were simply determined not to lose. Not against Hungary on opening day, not against Ecuador on the night. And both teams looked both tactically and technically superior.
But the Nigerians showed more heart, more spirit and certainly more lungs. Even at the end, they were still swarming all over Ecuador and were it not for poor finishing, they would surely have run up the score.

Nigerians have been weaned on attacking football. The great Green Eagles team which won the Africa Cup of Nations were loaded with attacking talent and played with expansive verve.
The 1994 team wrote themselves into folklore in much the same way. And the best of Nigeria’s cadet teams - including all previous five Under 17 championship winning teams - all played in much the same way.
This side are not nearly as talented as their predecessors, and there are quite a few holes to be picked in their game, but they do a good job of covering these holes with their unrelenting forward blitz.
The good news is they create a boatload of chances. The bad news is they need barn doors in front of them.
Akinwunmi Amos is a wrecking ball, captain Samson Tijani is a offensive controller and Said just showed how lethal he can be from range. Not to mention Wisdom Ubani and his set piece expertise.
There will be goals with this team, the trouble is. . .

There are weaknesses all over the team, and it starts well before the ball gets to defense. Against Ecuador, as in against Hungary, the biggest problem was before the ball got to defense. 
Players, especially in midfield, were in some sort of mad hurry to play balls. And for all of Garba’s emphasis on passing football, sometimes, players’ decision to go alone turned out ill-advised. All of this led to more than their fair share of turnovers. 
But the worst part was the after. Manu Garba needs to drill some basic idea of timing into his players until it becomes muscle memory. The amount of seemingly aimless running and mistimed tackles were simply insane.
It led to goals against Hungary and again against Ecuador.
A more tactically disciplined side would leather these lads if allowed such freedom of the shop.
Hopefully, they plug the holes sooner rather than later.



Golden Eaglets lineup ahead of their opening game against Hungary

Heart and guts overcame an error-ridden performance by Nigeria, as the Golden Eaglets opened their FIFA Under 17 World Cup campaign with a come from behind win over Hungary on Saturday night.

Hungary poked the tiger within three minutes of the opening, their early pressure forcing Nigeria on the backfoot and Gyorgy Komaromi found himself in good position to draw first blood after just three minutes.

Captain Samson Tijani drew the Golden Eaglets level from the sport after Wisdom Ubani’s nifty footwork got him into the box only to be clipped. Samuel Major took advantage of further sloppy defending by Nigeria to restore Hungary’s advantage as they went into the break on top. 

But three late goals, two of those in the span of a minute, took Nigeria to victory.

Here are a few thoughts from the game

It was obvious that Hungary had watched tapes of the Nigeria team ahead of the game, and looked to exploit the weaknesses early. They peppered the fullback positions and scored both their goals from high, early pressure that the Nigerians found difficult to deal with.

Although they failed to keep up the momentum, bombarded as they were any Nigeria’s physical superiority and skill, their technical ability meant they did not have to overly exert themselves in a first half where they allowed the Eaglets to do all the running while they simply sat back and picked them off almost at will.

This is by no means the most talented squad Manu Garba has put together in his time as a youth coach, so there will be lot more work needed to help them along the way, That means studying film of the opposition ahead of and fixing his own team’s weaknesses.

One of those is dealing with the press. They did not handle it well against Hungary and need to work on it going forward.

To watch the first few minutes of the game, it looked like this iteration of Golden Eaglets were among the most disjointed ever.
Their passes continually went astray, touches looked heavy and the players appeared to be in a constant hurry to get nowhere fast. The calmness of the position made their haste even more glaring.
But the one thing the young men had more than enough of and then some, was heart. Even when they went down twice, their heads did not drop. They played with fire and the boisterousness of their youth. And even at the end, still had plenty of running in them as they overwhelmed Hungary by sheer force of character.
Heart and lungs are great traits to have, especially in the group phase. But they will need more than that if they are to go all the way.

There was a lot that went wrong with the Golden Eagles on the night, and that includes players who did not pull their weight.
And the less said about the walkabout defense th ebetter.
But none of that could be said about man of the match and captain Samson Tijani. In the midst of the blundering chaos, he was the one calming influence. Everything the Nigerians played went through him, and it was when he had the ball that the team looked even slightly composed.
His two goals were just reward for the effort he put in.
And then there was Akinwunmi Amoo. It is uncertain why Garba decided to start him from the bench. It could have been for tactical reasons. But when he came on, he showed that he belongs on the starting eleven.
It is hard to see him starting on the bench now after coming on and totally changing the complexion of the Nigeria team.


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Gernot Rohr says Nigeria’s first half performance against Ukraine was the best the team has played since he took over as Nigeria coach.
The Super Eagles completely dominated the hosts, racing to a two-goal lead and should have been at least four goals up in the first half but for some great goalkeeping and wayward finishing.
But their performance in those first 45 minutes had Rohr buzzing
“It was a great performance against a very good team,” he said. “The best initial 45 minutes I saw since I am with the team.” 
Despite their dominance, the Super EAgles, playing without a posse of key starters, were to conceded twice late on and tie the game. Rohr pointed to the youthfulness off his side and explained that that may have been responsible for their giving up their two-goal advantage late in the second half
“Age average less than 23. That fact can also explain two minutes of nerves in the second half. And their second goal was clear handball.”
Rohr however was left pleased with the overall direction of the team 

“We saw some new faces and a come back of the goal keeper. The kind of modern football we played is promising for the future.”



Nigeria forward Odion Ighalo says he is standing by his decision to retire from international football despite an attempt by NFF President Amaju Pinnick to persuade him to change his mind.

Ighalo finished as both 2019 Afcon qualifying top scorer with 7 goals and tournament top scorer with five, helping Nigeria beat Tunisia 1-0 to claim bronze on Wednesday night, and then announced his retirement soon after.

On Saturday, leading African journalist Osasu Obayuwana reported that NFF President Amaju Pinnick had informed him that the striker had reversed his decision. But Ighalo said that was not the case

“It is not true that I have reversed my decision,” Ighalo told exclusively on Sunday morning. “The (NFF) president spoke to me and asked me to reconsider. Out of respect for him, I said I would think about it. I consulted with my family and we decided that the best thing for me now is to stand by the decision.
“I love my country and it was not an easy decision to make. But I believe the time is right. I am now out for eight weeks and my club are not happy about it, but I thank God for everything.”

Ighalo, something of a late bloomer, made his senior debut for Nigeria in 2015 as the Super Eagles lost 0-1 to Uganda in a friendly.

He finished with 35 appearances for Nigeria, scoring 16 goals, an average of just under a goal a game. 


Super Eagles

8:58 National anthems are done, so are pre match formalities. And so I say, thank you for staying with me
Enjoy the game!

8:40 Warm ups are done. Teams have headed back into the dressing room. Algeria players got huge cheers when their lineup was read out. The Nigerians, apart from Ahmed Musa, barely got anything

8:10 The teams are coming out for the warmups now. First Algeria, then Nigeria. Alloy Agu, the Super Eagles goalkeeper trainer gives a big wave to the Nigeria fans in the stands and they respond with a huge cheer
The Super Eagles emerge from the tunnel to a big cheer. But the Algerians get an even bigger one. They have way more fans in the stands. They are the home team on paper. And it’s the same on the stands

7:30 The teams have arrived in the stadium

6:40 The Super Eagles have left their hotel and are on their way to the stadium.
For the superstitious amongst us, they will play today in their green away jersey. Make of that what you will

6:20 Dr Wiebe Boer is supporting the Super Eagles all the way from Trinidad and Tobago with his jersey on. Where are you supporting from?

And Gernot Rohr is naming an unchanged lineup from the one which beat South Africa in the last game. Do you like it?

6:11 Time for the ball kids to do their rehearsals

5:50 it’s just over three hours to the game. There are more media folks at the stadium than fans

4:00 Media folks are very upset. Their entrance gate was changed with no prior information. Now, journalists have to walk over half an hour, some lugging heavy equipment, to get to the Media Centre. In this heat! There are some very sweaty, sun-burned, angry people about

3:40 Time to stop and get some Papa John’s Chicken Wings before departure to the stadium 

3:00 In case you hadn’t heard, the Algerian military offered 6 military planes to airlift fans to Cairo for the game. This is in addition to the thousands who will be making the trip via chartered Air Algerie flights. Looks like Nigeria fans will be outnumbered. But will they be out-sung?

2:30PM One thing that has been very noticeable is that the Super Eagles players have been off social networks since last night. Only one player - and I won’t say who - updated his Snapchat late last night and that was just listening to music.
On WhatsApp, there has been no status updates. 

2PM An early picture of the stadium and this is what it looks like. No indication of the din and bedlam that is just hours away now

1PM: As is to be expected for a game that is now 8 hours away, everywhere is quiet but we will bring you some pictures from Nigeria training on Saturday

Super Eagles training at the Aero Sports Complex in Cairo on Saturday afternoon

It is semifinal day at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and Nigeria’s Super Eagle go up against Algeria’s Fennecs in what should be a battle for the ages. 

A budding Nigeria side who have already despatched Cameroon and made light work of South Africa, now face arguably their biggest test of the tournament so far, a resurgent, organized and very disciplined Algeria side who are yet to taste defeat and conceded only their first goal of the tournament against Cote d’Ivoire in the quarterfinals.

The winners, of course, will play for the big prize. Nigeria are seeking a fourth title. Algeria, only their second. Both sides won their first ever titles against each other. Nigeria beating Algeria 3-0 in Lagos to claim their first win in 1980, and the Algerians returning the favour in 1994 via a 1-0 win in Algiers.

Recenteetings have gone the way of the Super Eagles, who have six wins from their last eight meetings.

Kickoff is at 8PM Nigeria time from the Cairo International Stadium. But we will have over eight hours of buildup here on so feel free to chirp in on Twitter (see what I did there), Facebook and Instagram.

So away we go, then.

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