By Emmanuel Yaw Nkansah
Nigeria overcame a plucky challenge from South Africa in their Matchday 3 clash in Group B to clinch the final automatic qualification spot for the quarterfinals, putting South Africa’s chances of advancing in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Zambia overwhelmed Morocco in the other Group B game, but that was not enough to save them from elimination.
Nigeria dominated Morocco in their previous game yet somehow managed to lose. That was not the case this time around against South Africa, as the Golden Eaglets made much better use of their attacking dominance to secure a 3-2 win against South Africa and a place in the quarterfinals.
An imperious first-half performance saw Nigeria fire 25 shots on the South African goal in contrast to just six for the Amajimbos, yet the first half ended with South Africa leading 2-1. Vicky Mkhawana gave South Africa an early lead in the 6th minute, and after that, it was all Nigeria as the Golden Eaglets besieged the South African goal in search of an equaliser. Their effort yielded fruit in the 34th minute when Charles Adah Agada headed home the equaliser.
South Africa reclaimed the lead, however, in the third minute of first-half injury time through star-boy Siyabonga Mabena, who beat the challenge of his markers before firing home. That lead did not last long, as Nigeria quickly levelled the score a minute into the second half with Light Eke’s easy tap-in from Charles Agada’s cross. Further pressure yielded another goal for Nigeria in the 65th minute when Abubakar Idris Abdullahi snuck in behind the South African to poke home Emmanuel Michael’s cross, completing the turnaround for Nigeria.
Zambia overcame group leaders Morocco in the other Group B fixture, yet were unable to escape their fate of elimination from the tournament. After losses in their previous two games, Zambia finally made good on the attacking potential they showed in the tournament to secure a 2-1 win against Morocco, but it was too little, too late for the Zambians.
Despite the fact that they were already practically eliminated from the tournament, the Young Chipolopolo did not let that discourage them. They took the game to the Moroccans, but a goal for Morocco in the 18th minute by Zakaria Ouazane took the wind out of their sails. Morocco could have doubled their lead four minutes later, but Adam Boufandar failed to hit the ball past the Zambian goalie. Zambia were much better in the second half and began to pressure the Moroccan defence. That pressure bore fruit in the 73rd minute, when Samson Malaya’s header drew them level. Two minutes after hitting the woodwork with a shot, Emmanuel Mwanza found the back of the net in the 87th minute after converting a penalty to complete the comeback for Zambia.
Zambia might have been eliminated, but they managed to exit the competition in style, with their win over Morocco proving that perhaps they could have done much better. Morocco will go on to face Algeria on Wednesday at Constantine to battle for a place in the semifinals. Nigeria will also take on the winner of the Burkina Faso vs. Cameroon clash in Group C. All these games will be broadcast live on GTV Sports+.