Nigeria put two goals past Denmark to secure a spot in the semifinal round of the 2016 Olympic men’s soccer tournament.
The Super Eagles got off to a flying start in the opening minute of a thrilling first half, asking questions of Denmark’s goalkeeper, Jeppe Hojbjerg. A blocked cross from the right wing found the left foot of Usman Muhammed for Nigeria, who challenged but could not beat the Danish number one.
In the tenth minute, Casper Neilson nearly responded with the goal of the tournament. Seven yards outside the penalty area, the Danish midfielder received a lofted pass, chested the ball directly down to his right foot and fired a volley off the crossbar nearly 25 yards away.
Then, on the stroke of 15 minutes, Nigeria’s star man and captain John Obi Mikel put the Super Eagles ahead, 1-0.
Imoh Ezekiel, dribbling the ball down the left wing, outpaced his Danish defender and curled a low cross six yards in front of goal. Mikel’s left foot guided the ball into the side netting, past Hojbjerg for the score.
Less than two minutes later Eziekiel nearly doubled the Nigerian lead himself, demonstrating tremendous skill to again beat his mark and chip the ball just over the crossbar.
Later in the half, Nigeria’s goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel was called upon to make a pair of spectacular saves less than a minute apart, both against Danish striker Jacob Bruun Larsen. First, Bruun Larsen found the end of a lofted cross and headed it towards the top corner. Daniel stretched full-vertical to just poke the shot over the bar.
After the ensuing corner kick, Bruun Larsen received a through-pass in the box but again could not direct the ball past Daniel.
Denmark seemed destined to equalize before halftime.
Then once again, in first half stoppage time, Daniel used every inch of his tall frame to punch an Edigerson Gomez header over the bar and secure the one-goal Nigerian lead as both teams walked to the dressing rooms.
The second half started in much tamer fashion than the first, but picked up in the 58th minute when Hojbjerg was called upon to save a powerful strike from Stanley Amuzie, earning Nigeria a corner kick.
John Obi Mikel took the corner, sending an in-swinging cross beautifully in front of the left-side near post. Aminu Umar capitalized off poor marking from the Danes to head the ball into the back of the net, doubling the Nigerian lead.
Nigeria defended their way through the remaining 30 minutes – rather unconvincingly in one or two instances – but held the clean sheet to set up a semifinal encounter with Germany.
The only tangible setback the Super Eagles encountered in the match came in the 80th minute, when midfielder Okechukwu Azubuike earned his second yellow card of the tournament, disqualifying him from the Aug. 17 semifinal match.
South Korea will meet Honduras at 6 p.m. ET this evening, followed by a tantalizing tie between Colombia and hosts Brazil at 9 p.m. ET to decide the other semifinal matchup.