NFF President Amaju Pinnick was in ecstasy on Saturday night after the U-23 National Team, otherwise known as Dream Team, won the Africa U-23 Cup of Nations in Dakar, Senegal.
“This is another reason to celebrate. We are delighted. But we give a lot of credit to the players and the officials led by Coach Samson Siasia. They showed exceptional perseverance and unyielding spirit to do the nation proud.
“The NFF as a Federation has special praise for Coach Siasia. He was strong mentally and never lost focus, even in the face of odds. He is deserving of every encomium.”
The triumph was the fourth major trophy in the 14-month life of the Amaju Pinnick administration, with the Super Falcons’ 2014 African Women Championship title, the Flying Eagles’ Africa U-20 Cup of Nations win in Senegal earlier in the year and the Golden Eaglets’ successful retention of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile in November being the others.
The Dream Team had already made of sure of a place in the men’s football tournament of the 2016 Olympics before the final, when a well –placed penalty by Oghenekaro Etebo condemned host Senegal to defeat in Wednesday’s semi final at the same venue.
Nigeria’s player of the tournament, Etebo, set the Dream Team on the way in Saturday’s final, with a goal from the penalty spot in the 14th minute. The forward himself had been double –teamed by two Algerian defenders but picked himself up to send the goalkeeper the wrong way.
Algeria drew level in a most bizarre manner, when Nigerian defender Segun Oduduwa headed past his own goalkeeper and into the net from a delicate pull –out by an Algerian forward in the 31st minute.
Etebo, who rained shots at the Algerian goal from every angle, was strong and purposeful all through, and five minutes to interval, picked up the ball in the centre circle and ran past a horde of Algerian defenders before firing low into the net past the Algerian goalkeeper.
In the 69th minute, the brilliant Nigeria goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel saved his second penalty in as many matches. After foiling Sory Keita in the first half of Wednesday’s semi final, Daniel again rose to the occasion to stop Algeria’s dangerman Ferhat after Oduduwa, who had a game to forget, had fouled an Algerian striker in the box.
The Dream Team weathered the expected final 20 –minute onslaughts of the North Africans very well, even creating chances of their own, and were fully worth the African title at the end.
NFF 1st Vice President, Barr. Seyi Akinwunmi, who was also leader of delegation when the U-20 boys won the Africa U-20 Cup in Senegal earlier in the year, was among the dignitaries at the Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor in Dakar on Saturday night.
South Africa picked the third African ticket, condemning host Senegal to misfortune with 3-1 penalty shoot –out defeat in the third place match.