By Jacob Ajom
They were a pitiful sight in their first match here when they lost to Mali in their first match. A 4-2 victory over Mozambique raised their hopes and those of their fans at home.
Anfer last night’s sweet 3-1 victory against hosts Bafana Bafana of South Africa, the talk in the Eagles camp here now is how to win the cup. But they have a quarterfinal match and possibly a semi and final matches before the title that will tag them African Champions on the local.
front. Savouring yesterday’s victory mattered to the team here last night and the feeling among the players was great here in Cape Town with 36,000 fans watching.
Petite midfielder, Ejike Uzoneyi was the man running the ring round the South Africans, trying to find strikers Ifeanyi Ede and Gbolahan Salami, who had a somewhat quiet night.
Eagles first chance at goal was scoffed at the death by Salami, who wasted time as goalkeeper Joseph closed in to save the lame shot. Ozoenyi was the provider of the ball that was wasted by Salami. The Rangers midfield maestro appeared not impressed with the missed chances as events would later show.
Not wanting to be outshone on their soil, South Africa also went on an offensive play but Bernard Parker’s tame shot was calmly picked by goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim. But the moment that changed the game came on 21 minute when Uzoenyi unleashed a powerful left-foot shot that rested at the back of the Bafana Bafana net. It was a beautiful goal that set the tone for the things to come from Uzoenyi, who was unequivocally the man-of-the-match.
And it soon got better for Nigeria when Enyimba’s forward Ifeanyi Ede scored from the penalty spot in the 30th minute to send the Nigerians supporters into a frenzy celebrations. It was turning out to be another easy walk-over of South Africa by Eagles.
In the second half Uzoenyi continued from where he stopped in the first half to net Nigeria’s third goal on 63 minutes. The goal was a stunner in all sense and even though Parker scored to make it 3-1, the Eagles had done enough to send South Africa out of the tournament as Mali, who defeated Mozambique 2-1 joined Eagles as the two qualified teams from Group A.
The victory reaffirmed Nigeria’s superiority over South Africa. It was a nervy finish for the African champions as even when the two teams ended the match with ten men apiece, the hosts dominated the final ten minutes.
The hosts were disappointing as most of their moves were wasted. Surprisingly, Chigozie Agbim, the Eagles skipper and goal tender was fairly good just as the entire Nigerian team raised their game.
Solomon Kwambe, a stalwart in the Eagles defence was given a red after bringing down a South African player in the 74th minute.
Two minutes later, the referee evened the number of players on both sides as Yuyo Mere, spotting jersey number 11 for Bafana Bafana was sent off.