ENITAN OBADINA / AIPS* in AL AIN: Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets suffered a reality check when a well-organised Sweden held them to an entertaining 3-3 draw in their second group game of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013.
Coming off the high-flying start of 6-1 victory over Mexico, the Nigerians began strongly, dominating possession, but met firm resistance from the Swedish defence.
Gradually Sweden came into the game with an attacks of their own. Nigeria’s defence had no answers as Valmir Berisha silenced the singing Nigerian fans with two goals in eight minutes.
First Anton Saletros, starting for the first time, sent in a long cross which goalkeeper Dele Alampasu misjudged. Erdal Rakip headed the ball forward to Halmstad’s Berisha who jumped to shoot Sweden ahead. Eight minutes later Berisha showed off his heading skills to another cross from Saletros.
Striker Isaac Success hit back with a superb, acrobatic goal and Musa Yahaya equalised with a tame long shot after the break which took Sixten Mohlin by surprise. Later the goalkeeper owned up to his lack of concentration.
Injuries upset both teams. Sweden had to replace Isak Ssewankambo, their best player in the European Championships, while Nigeria ‘lost’ striker Success.
Yet the substitutions proved a blessing for both sides. Mirza Halvadzic, who took Ssewankambo’s place, scored a third Swedish goal in the 65th minute courtesy of another goalkeeping error. Then Taiwo Awoniyi, the replacement for Success, headed an 81st-minute goal which earned Nigeria a point.
Manu Gabra, Nigerian coach: “We didn’t concentrate as in the first match against Mexico. The Sweden goals all came from a lack of concentration, especially from the players in defence. We knew that Scandinavian football focuses on using the wings and that’s what happened.”
Sweden’s Roland Larsson assessed Nigeria as “the best team in the competition” and was thus “proud of my players.”
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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