U23AFCON: Nigeria beat Zambia to restore Olympics hope

U23AFCON: Nigeria beat Zambia to restore Olympics hope

Nigeria U23 side came from a goal down to beat Zambia 3-1 and restore their hopes of qualifying for next year’s Olympics in Tokyo.

Orji Okwonkwo in the first half and two second half goals by Kelechi Nwakali – a sublime free kick – and Taiwo Awoniyi at the death handed Imama Amapakabo’s side a hugely relieving win at Al Salam Stadium in Cairo.

Nigeria went into the game at the back of a 0-1 loss to Coted’voire at the same venue on Saturday but were boosted by the presence of captain Okechukwu Azubuike and forward Awoniyi for Tuesday’s game.

The Zambians were also able to call on foreign based trio Enock Mwepu, Fashion Sakala and Patson Daka for the first time in the tournament and it was the latter who gave them a dream lead in the 12th minute when he slotted home beyond onrushing Nigerian goalkeeper Adamu Abubakar.

The lead however lasted for just four minutes as Nigeria scored their first goal in the competition when Okwonkwo instinctively volleyed home Sunusi Ibrahim’s corner kick. The Zambians enjoyed lion share of possession in the first half which ended even among both sides.

Nigeria became markedly better in the second half but were dealt a blow just after the hour mark when Okwonkwo succumbed to injury – Austria based winger Sunday Faleye replaced him.

The U23 side then went in front in the 65th minute courtesy of a moment of brilliance by midfielder Nwakali. The troubled playmaker picked himself up after a foul to curl home a brilliant free kick from 25 yards.

Amapakabo later replaced the former Arsenal prospect with defensive midfielder Aliyu Adam with fourteen minutes left on the clock in a bid to seal off the game.

It worked indeed for the Nigerians but the West Africans were able to add icing to the cake with virtually the last kick of the game; Awoniyi tapping into an empty net after he had beaten Zambian goalkeeper Mangani Banda to Ndifreke Effiong’s long pass.

The win took Nigeria to second in Group B behind South Africa who lead with four points after a 1-0 win over Coted’voire earlier on. Both teams will meet in their final group game on Friday at the same stadium.

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