After beating their hosts Egypt in the semi-final of the CAF Beach Soccer Africa Cup of Nations 2018, Nigeria become the first side, excluding the automatically qualified hosts, Paraguay, to make it to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2019.
Elsewhere, there were wins in the play-off for Madagascar against first-timers, Tanzania, as well as Côte d’Ivoire, who beat Libya by six goals to three.
But first, let’s look at how today’s semi-final went down, where Abu Azeez scored his 100th goal for Nigeria…as well as his 101st, 102nd and 103rd!
Egypt 6-7 Nigeria (SEMI-FINAL)
Victory against two-time champions Nigeria today, would see hosts Egypt make it to the final on home sand, guarantee their best ever finish in the Beach Soccer Africa Cup of Nations, and of course, a precious place at the FIFA World Cup 2019 in Paraguay.
However, Nigeria were not about to go easy on their hosts and Abu Azeez struck his 100th goal for his country after a period of high pressure from the men in green. Then Taiwo ran on to a long pass to arrow a low shot past Mohamed Fawzy in the Egyptian goal.
Trailing by two already, the hosts had to come up with something soon and stop the previous edition’s runners-up. And they did exactly that, when Moustafa Aly drove a freekick home to pin Nigeria back to just one goal ahead.
The crowd revitalised, Egypt kept up the attack but importantly defended furiously to make sure that the first period ended with the game within sight, at just 1-2.
As the second period started, Egypt were looking the more dangerous of the sides and Paul, the Nigeria goalkeeper, was kept busy, pulling off some impressive stops. But another goal eluded them, until Costa found a sliver of space to pelt a low shot into the corner, giving Paul no chance this time.
Aware of their dominance, Egypt were moving over the sand with confidence, but when Ogbonna sent a cleanly-hit chip into the top corner, Nigeria were leading once more. Abu then made it 2-4, grabbing his second of the day. But Samir, a minute after missing a penalty, dragged Egypt back once more, by scoring a freekick.
The third period got underway with the hosts just one behind Audu Ejo Adamu’s men. As Abu completed a hat-trick, Samir was there, once more, to volley home after a sublime piece of teamwork, and the difference remained the same.
And then, a penalty, and the chance to draw level. Mohamed stepped up, took a deep breath and powered the shot past Paul to equalise – 5-5! With the prospect of a place in the FIFA World Cup ahead of them, Egypt were throwing everything they had at the Nigerians who were suddenly looking vulnerable, lunging into tackles and giving away valuable freekicks.
Abu picked the defender’s pocket to take the lead yet again, but just a minute later Egypt were level when Mohamed scored a beauty of an overhead. Extra time was snatched cruelly from them, when more defensive complacency saw Ogbonna nick the ball, calmly finish and take the game 6-7 for Nigeria.
The heart-broken hosts sank to the sand while the ecstatic Nigerians celebrated wildly. These sides will have to wait until tomorrow to see who they face in the 3rd place play-off and who will join Nigeria in the final, and Paraguay.
Goals: 0-1: Abu, min. 6 (1); 0-2: Taiwo, min. 3 (1); 1-2: Moustafa Aly, min. 2 (1); 2-2: Costa, min. 6 (2); 2-3: Ogbonna, min. 4 (2); 2-4: Abu, min. 3 (2); 3-4: Samir, min. 1 (2); 3-5: Abu, min. 10 (3); 4-5: Samir, min. 9 (3); 5-5: Mohamed, min. 7 (3); 5-6: Abu, min. 5 (3); 6-6: Mohamed, min. 3 (3); 6-7: Ogbonna, min. 0 (3);