Nigeria’s U-23 side, Dream Team VI on Wednesday qualified for next year’s Rio Olympics Brazil, following a hard fought 1-0 victory over host Senegal in the semifinals, courtesy of a 77th minute strike by skipper Oghenekaro Etebo.
The Warri Wolves midfielder converted a penalty midway into the second half to secure victory for the Nigeria U-23 team against a determined Senegal side, cheered on by an expectant home crowd.
The Lions of Teranga topped Group A with maximum nine points, and also boast of a very good defence as they won all their matches in the group stage, scoring six goals and conceding just one.
However, they will have themselves to blame for failing to convert the numerous chances that came their way in addition to missing a penalty just before half time with Ibrahima Keita shooting in the waiting hands of Nigerian goalkeeper, Emmanuel Daniel.
Both teams got off to a blistering start but it was Senegal who dominated possession firing from every angle in search of the opener.
And their consistent raids upfront yielded some decent chances but the Enugu Rangers goalkeeper Daniel, was always up to the task.
The match changed in the 75th minute when Nigeria was awarded a penalty after Senegal’s Ousseynou Thioune, who was sent off, handled the ball as he collided with his goalkeeper Pape N’Diaye Souare.
Etebo held his nerve to send goalkeeper the wrong way and Nigeria all the way to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Senegal’s 10 men pushed for the equaliser that would have taken the game to penalties but even with five minutes of injury time left, they were unable to break down the stubborn Nigerian defence.
Victory meant Nigeria, 1996 champions and 2008 runners up but missing from the last Olympics in London, will be one of Africa’s three flag-bearers at the tournament in Rio de Janeiro next year.
Speaking after the game, the very excited NFF General Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi, said: “We thank God for this victory. It is more special and much more exciting because neither of our teams qualified for the football tournament of the 2012 Olympics in London.
“We want to thank the Federal Government and the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports for all their support. We also want to appreciate the players and their officials for their tenacity and patriotism.”
In the other semifinal clash of the day, Algeria beat South Africa 2-0 in the second semi after goals from Oussama Darfalou and Mohamed Benkhemassa.
Senegal and South Africa face a crucial third-place match on Saturday, with the winners also earning a place in Brazil.
In Saturday’s final, Samson Siasia’s boys will take on Algeria at the same Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor in Dakar.