Nigeria’s hopes of playing at the CAF U-23 Championship hang on a cliffhanger following yesterday’s slim 2-1 victory over Congo at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt.
The result has left this CAF U23 Championship qualifier wide open with the second leg in Pointe-Noire in a fortnight set to decide which team progress to the maiden edition of the CAF-organised tournament.
After a scoreless first half completely dominated by home team Nigeria, Junior Ajayi finally opened scoring in the 48th minute after Congo goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi failed to hold on to an acute-angled shot by Godwin Saviour.
Shooting Stars striker Ajayi completed his brace in the 54thminute, when he headed home a low cross from the left by Etor Daniel.
But just when Dream Team VI were cruising to a comfortable home win, Congo pulled a goal back through Moise Nkonkou in the 66th minute.
A penalty appeal by Nigeria in the 59th minute was overlooked by the Kenyan referee, but television replays later showed it should have been given as Etebo Oghenekaro’s shot was handled by a Congo defender inside the box.
Nigeria made three changes thereafter with Musa Yahaya, Taiwo Awoniyi and Umar Aminu coming in as they went in search of more goals.
Awoniyi failed to connect a low drive across the Congo goal in the 75th minute.
Oghenekaro was then denied in stoppage time by the Congo goalkeeper.
Congo were the happier of the two teams going into the dressing room after scores stood at 0-0 at a packed Adokie Amiesimeika Stadium in Port Harcourt.
Samson Siasia’s Dream Team VI attacked all of the first 45 minutes and visiting Congo were happy to sit back and defend with their lives.
Nigeria enjoyed 67 percent of the possession and forced 11 corners, but they still could not manage to translate the final ball into goal.
Saviour shot at goal after just six minutes, but it screamed across the Congo goal.
In the 12th minute, Junior Ajayi could have put the home team in front but he scooped away from target from inside the box after he was superbly set up by Oghenekaro.
Skipper Azubuike Okechukwu’s shot from the top of the box after 22 minutes was also off target.
In the 31st minute, Segun Oduduwa shot from a free kick was put out for a corner by the Congo goalkeeper Mafoumbi.
Three minutes later, Saviour goal-bound shot was headed off the goal line as Congo continued to hang on.
And in stoppage time, Saviour again forced a double save from the Congo shot stopper.