Nigeria’s Under 23 male national team, the Dream Team VI Eagles emerged the champions of 2015 African U-23 Nations Championship on Saturday night after beating Algeria 2-1 in Leophold Senghor Stadium, Dakar, Senegal.
The Samson Siasia-led team which played a goal-less draw against the Algerians earlier in the final Group B tie, however, took their North African opponent to the cleaners, with a dominant display.
Oghenekharo Etebo, proved the hero of the night with his brace proving the ultimate decider of the match. The Warri Wolves attacker gave Nigeria the crucial lead from the spot in14th minute after being brought down inside the box by Algerian defender while in motion.
The lead lasted barely16 minutes as Oduduwa Segun Tope mistakenly nodded a near-post cross past goal-keeper Emmanuel Daniel to drew the Algerians level.
Etebo would change the course of the game when he utilized his breadth-taking pace, outrunning the defenders to poke home the decisive goal before half time.
Although, the Algerians came back stronger in the second half and had their chances to drew the game, they were undone by their profligacy and Daniel’s excellent goal-keeping. The keeper, once more rescued the team when he correctly guessed and saved Zinedine Ferhat’s penalty kick in the 68th minute. The boys held on to win 2-1 to lift the trophy and take their place in Rio as African champions.
South Africa had earlier snatched the remaining Olympic spot with a 3-1 penalties win over hosts Senegal in the third place play-off match. Goalkeeper Jody February proved to be South Africa’s hero with three saves during the shootout and a penalty save in the regulation 90 minutes which had ended 0-0.
Phakamani Mahlambi hit the winning spot-kick to send South Africa’s men to the Rio Games.
It is the first time that both the South Africa men’s and women’s football teams have qualified for an Olympics.
In a rare instance of a third-place play-off match carrying more importance than the final itself, it was the hosts Senegal who had the best chance in the game to seal victory when they were awarded a penalty in the 73rd minute.
Moussa Wague’s effort was saved by the outstanding February who then played a starring role in the ensuing shootout, saving three spot-kicks .
South Africa’s men join the newly crowned Under 23 Africa Cup of Nations champions Nigeria and runners-up Algeria, at Rio 2016.
Nigeria boast a proud Olympics record. They made Olympic football history in 1996 by becoming the first African and non-European and South American team to win the gold medal.
They also finished runners-up at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where current under-23 coach Siasia also coached the ‘Dream Team’ in China.
However, the so-called ‘Dream Team V’ led by Austin Eguavoen failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics after crashing out in the group stages of the 2011 U-23 championship in Morocco.
By Olisemeka Obeche