Nigeria’s quest to feature in its second straight Olympic Games next year got a big setback yesterday when Libya defeated the national U-23 team 2-0 at the Stade de Ben Guerdane in Tunisia.
The Nigerian side, who won the bronze medal at the 2016 Games in Brazil, are the defending champions of the African U-23 Nations Cup, which serves as the qualifying tournament for the games.
With Europe-based players like Arsenal’s Kelechi Nwakali, Liverpool’s Taiwo Awoniyi, Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze and former captain, Azubuike Okechukwu, the Nigerians were expected to overrun the Libyans, who were forced to play their home matches in Tunisia due to the crisis in their country. But the Libyans were the better-prepared team on the day.
They took the lead as early as the seventh minute when striker, Zakaria Alharaish finished off a quick move from their half of the game.
Nigeria tried to rally after that setback, but they met a brick wall in the Libyan defence. Things turned from bad to worse in the 44th minute when Nigeria’s goalkeeper, Adamu Abubakar was sent off for handling the ball outside the area.
Now forced to play with 10 men, Coach Imama Amakapabo brought in substitute goalkeeper, Orewale Oremade in place of Dennis Bonaventure. But that move only brought out the beast in the Libyans, who went for the kill. They got their second goal midway into the second half to make qualification for the African U-23 Nations Cup a tough task for Nigeria.
The U-23 Eagles must beat Libya by at least three unreplied goals in Asaba on March 25 to qualify for the African championship.