Nigeria outclassed Zambia in a fire-packed, hugely entertaining U20 international friendly in Abuja on Friday evening, as both countries ratcheted up their preparations for this year’s Africa U20 Cup of Nations starting in Egypt in a fortnight.
Isah Ladan Bosso’s boys and the visitors treated spectators to heartwarming close control, excellent turns and dribbles and good positioning play on the turf of Moshood Abiola National Stadium, but the seven-time African champions could have won by a wider margin without the brilliance of visiting goalkeeper Jeban Tembo.
Ayuba Abubakar heaved the ball too high when Tembo spilled after a lob by Ogbelu Onuche in the 6th minute, and Tembo was on hand to foil an advancing Ibrahim Muhammad two minutes later. Rilwanu Haliru Sarki’s effort from a 20-yard free-kick rocked the upright in the 11th minute, and at the other end, the nifty Moses Mulenga stretched Nathaniel Nwosu from a similar position six minutes later.
Sarki shot wide from a good position in the 27th minute and had his effort punched away in the 33rd, but there was no stopping him in the 39th minute as he stripped three defenders and unleashed a cannon that Tembo could not stop on its way to the net.
In the second period, both teams moved the needle of the pressure even higher, and following even exchanges, Derrick Bulaya volleyed past Nwosu for the equalizer in the 55th minute. Another excellent Sarki free-kick was kept out by the upright in the 63rd minute and two minutes later, Tembo had to sprint outwards to block a header by substitute Adams Olamilekan.
Tembo was helpless two minutes after, as Olamilekan connected superbly with a header from a corner kick to restore Nigeria’s lead.
It took the fit-fighting Chipolopolo only four minutes to restore parity, as substitute Lasmond Phiri headed past Nwosu from a corner kick with the Nigeria defence ball-watching.
With eight minutes left, the persistent Nigerian attack benefitted from a defensive blunder, and substitute Emmanuel Uchebu slammed high into the net with Tembo stranded.
Another substitute, Samson Lawal, would have the last laugh as he cleverly found the far corner with Tembo’s flailing hands unable to stop a scorcher with one minute of added-time-on played.
“We are happy with this victory because the boys played a good match, yet the team is still a work-in-progress as we keep our focus on doing well in Egypt,” Coach Bosso said at the end.
The Junior Chipolopolo will fly to Senegal on Saturday for another friendly match, while the Flying Eagles will head to a final training camp in Morocco on Wednesday.