Nigeria’s Under-23 team, the Dream Team VI, have qualified for the semi-final of the male football event of the Rio Olympics after beating Denmark 2-0 at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil.
Nigeria went into the match without team top scorer Oghenekaro Etebo, who suffered a hamstring injury in the dead rubber loss to Colombia, and was consequently replaced by Umar Aminu.
Captain Mikel Obi opened scoring with a quarter of an hour gone, slicing home the ball by Jeppe Höjbjerg’s near post after good work on the left flank by striker Imoh Ezekiel, whose mazy runs had been a problem for the Danes all evening.
Ezekiel would then waste a glorious chance four minutes later. To his credit, he picked up the ball around the centre of the opposition half, and dashed on one of his trademark runs, dribbling past a wall of defenders to carve out an opening for himself, with Höjbjerg alone left to beat. However, he undid all the good work by driving the ball over the bar.
Denmark took the game by the scruff of the neck from then on, and the Dream Team hardly fashioned out a clear-cut chance for the rest of the first half, which in fact ended with the Dane holding 55 percent ball possession.
Nigeria had goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel to thank for retaining the lead, first in the 25th minute, when he looked to have been beaten by Frederik Borsting’s looping header only to tip it out for a corner kick, and minutes later, denying Borsting again in a one-on-one situation.
Denmark made a last-ditch effort to level the scores, Edigerson Gomes testing Daniel with a decent strike from the edge of the 18-yard box, but the Enugu rangers man was equal to the test.
Nigeria came out of the dressing the room the stronger side, pressing the Danes back in their half just like they started the first, but what would have been the first chance was Mikel’s blocked attempt at goal.
Stanley Amuzie was next, trying a long-range strike that was snuffed out by Höjbjerg’s sharp reflexes. That was a sign of what was to come, though, as Nigeria went ahead in the 58th minute when Aminu nodded home a Mikel corner.
Both sides would thereafter miss chances to score goals, but it was Nigeria who triumphed with the two-goal advantage
The result means the Dream Team will now play Germany on Wednesday in the second semi-final at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo, but the will be without Okechukwu Azubuike, who picked up his second yellow card of the tournament.
The Germans walloped Portugal 4-0 in the first quarter-final match of the round.