Hat trick hero Ibrahim Said exhibited a shooting masterclass as Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets staged yet another fightback to become the first side to qualify for the last 16 of the 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup with a 3-2 defeat of Ecuador in their second Group B match at the Estadio Olimpico on Tuesday.
Just like they did in defeating Hungary 4-2 in their opening game, the five-time winners left it late once more before staging a revival that confirmed their place in the knockout with Said at the centre of the action.
Nigeria had taken the lead but found themselves 2-1 down with six minutes left before Said took matters into his hands to ensure victory.
Having conceded inside three minutes against Hungary, the Golden Eaglets turned the tables on Ecuador by grabbing an early lead through Ibrahim Said in the fifth minute.
The defensive frailties evident in the opening game was on full display against Ecuador once again as parity was restored just five minutes as Mejia turned Ferdinand Ikenna from just outside the box and pulled the trigger. The ball grazed the upright and then went into the net off the back of goalkeeper Daniel Jinadu.
The rest of the first half was a disjointed affair full of enterprise and running from both sides but little end product with the major talking point the injury to Wisdom Ubani who was forced off in the 31st minute with Akinkunmi Amoo coming on in his place.
The second half continued in much the same fashion with chances few and far between until a foul by Charles Etim on an Ecuadorean attacker resulted in the referee awarding a penalty following a lengthy consultation with the VAR monitor.
Johan Mina duly dispatched the spot-kick to give Ecuador the lead in the 56th minute.
Nigeria rallied in search of the equaliser twice going close through Amoo and then captain Samson Tijani whose 80th-minute long-range scorcher grazed the crossbar after Ecuador goalie had bravely rushed out to deny Hamzat Ojediran from getting on the end of an exquisitely threated pass from Amoo.
The Golden Eaglets remained undaunted and pressed for the equaliser although the crossbar played a part in preventing them from falling further behind in the 83rd minute.
Nigeria’s battling spirit eventually paid off when a lovely curling shot from the edge of the area by Said sailed beautifully into Ecuador’s goal in the 85th minute to put both sides level.
Said grabbed his hattrick and the winning goal in the 89th minute when he applied the finishing touch to an intricately worked passing move involving three Nigerian players to put Nigeria on six points and keep them on track for a record-extending six title triumph.
Substitute Ibraheem Jabaar went to the ground when he should have scored and Olakunle Olusegun shot narrowly wide in added time, but the Eaglets picked their three points for a maximum six in two matches and will await their opponents in the Round of 16, even as they travel to Brasilia for their last Group B game against Australia on Friday night.