The Golden Eaglets have made up for their absence at the last edition of Africa’s U17 championship in Morocco by picking a ticket to the next one in Algeria holding next year.
Nigeria became the third team to book a place in the finals after hosts Algeria and Egypt emerging from the West Zone B of the qualifiers beating their Ivorien counterparts 3-1 on Tuesday in Ghana. The host nation will take on Burkina Faso later in the day to determine the second team from zone to the finals in Algeria.
A month ago, the Flying Eagles also qualified for the 2023 African U20 finals to be hosted by Egypt.
In the West B first semi-final on Tuesday, Emmanuel Michael produced a pair of goals, while a glancing header by Abubakar Idris Abdullahi condemned Côte d’Ivoire to defeat from a winning position.
The Eaglets had uncharacteristically conceded first when Yan Diomande scored from the penalty spot in the first minute after a foul in the Nigerian box.
The Nigerian boys launched onslaught after onslaught and were rewarded on the half-hour mark when Michael, who scored a spectacular goal from a 22-metre free-kick in the opening match against hosts Ghana, found the range off another free-kick from the right wing.
Thirteen minutes later, Nigeria were ahead for the first time in the encounter when Michael, again from a free kick at the edge of the box, blindsided goalkeeper Mohamed Cisse with an intelligent attempt that swept past the static wall.
The Ivorien came into the second half determined to browbeat the Eaglets with their size and stoutness, but they were pegged further back on the hour mark when Abdullahi found the net with a glancing header.
Four minutes later, the Ivorien were down to 10 men after Makhete Moustapha N’diaye got the red card.
Another free-kick by Michael in the 77th minute missed target narrowly, and Precious Tonye Williams came close with four minutes left after a brilliant team move set him up with a clear chance.
In Friday’s final, the Eaglets will take on the winner of the second semi final between hosts Ghana and Burkina Faso.
Defender and dead ball prodigy Michael was presented with the Man-of-the-Match award, for the third consecutive match.
Apart from winning the African title twice (2001 and 2007), sharing that honour with Ghana, Mali, Cameroon and The Gambia, Nigeria have been in the continental finals also twice (1995 and 2013) and featured in six other editions to establish a record of 10 appearances.
Globally, the Golden Eaglets not only won the inaugural FIFA U16 (now U17) World Cup in China in 1985, but went on to add four other titles in 1993, 2007, 2013 and a successful defence in 2015.
Kelechi Iheanacho (2013); Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Nwakali (both 2015); and Wilson Oruma (1993) were some of the stars produced by the cadet competition who later starred for the senior national team.