By Sedara Philip
Nigeria staged a remarkable fightback to edge out South Africa 3-2 in Constantine on Saturday night to progress to the quarter-finals of the TotalEnergies U17 Africa Cup of Nations in Algeria.
Abubakar Abdullahi scored the winner for the Golden Eaglets as they twice came from behind to clinch maximum points and finish second in Group B, behind group winners Morocco.
South Africa are third on three points and will anxiously be waiting for results from Group C on Sunday to see whether they can squeeze in to the last eight as one of two best third placed teams.
The Amajimbos had a brilliant start and they got into the lead after six minutes when Vicky Mkhawana shot low into the net after Waylon Renecke’s header from Gabriel Amato’s corner came off the post.
But, Nigeria constantly camped in South Africa’s half, forcing them to defend deep as they sought an equalizer. Abdullahi placed the ball marginally wide one on one with the keeper while Charles Agada had a goal disallowed for offside.
The pressure finally bore fruit in the 33rd minute when Agada equalized with a header after a corner was brushed to his path unmarked at the backpost.
At the stroke of halftime, South Africa keeper Gennaro Johnson made a good save with his foot to denby Abdullahi one on one with a volley inside the box.
In the second minute of added time, South Africa retook the lead with some brilliant piece of individual brilliance from Siyabonga Mabena.
The Mamelodi Sundowns man picked the ball on the left before taking on two markers and unleashing a belter of a shot that came off the underside of the bar and beyond the line.
Nonetheless, the Nigerians drew level once again just seconds into the second half when Light Eke tapped home inside the box after a cross from Agada off a good run on the right found him well placed.
They scored the winner in the 65th minute when Abdullahi sneaked in between the two central defenders to extend a foot and direct Emmanuel Michael’s cross into the net.
South Africa tried to turn in some effort to get back on level terms, but Nigeria defended well, and could have even extended their lead with Abdullahi having a shot come off the bar.
As runners up, Nigeria will now take on the second placed team from Group C