Nigeria’s Dream Team VI are through to the semi-final of the football event at the 2016 Rio Olympics following a 2-0 victory over Denmark at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador Saturday evening.
John Obi Mikel and Aminu Umar got the goals, either side of half-time, to send their side to Sao Paulo for a meeting with Germany on Wednesday.
After both sides were defeated in their respective final group games, each had a point to prove heading into the last eight clash.
Umar started in place of the injured Oghenekaro Etebo, while Abdullahi Shehu, Emmanuel Daniel, Imoh Ezekiel, Usman Mohammed and Stanley Amuzie all returned to the side.
The Nigerians started strongly despite internal crisis engulfing the side who even threatened to boycott the clash due to unpaid salaries and bonuses.
Samson Siasia’s lads were by far the most forward-thinking and took the initiative in the opening half, swiftly moving the ball to either flank to try and get in behind a sturdy Danish defence.
Ezekiel shone brightest for the Dream Team, a constant thorn in the side of the Danes.
Indeed the No 9 almost produced a goal in the opening minutes, his blocked shot falling to Sadiq Umar, who could only find Denmark’s goalkeeper Jeppe Hojbjerg.
The Europeans responded, with Casper Nielsen bringing the ball down superbly on his chest, before hitting an effort at goal which touched the crossbar on its way over.
At the end of the opening period, the young Eagles made their pace tell.
Ezekiel burst down the left-hand side and into the Danish penalty area, before squaring across to Mikel, who had the simplest of tasks to side foot home.
Into the second half, Ezekiel once again proved himself a nuisance to Niels Frederiksen’s side, twisting and turning his way past several opposing defenders on the left-hand side of the Danish penalty area before opening his body and firing a shot over the crossbar.
Siasia’s team would have their second goal though, after Mikel turned provider.
The Chelsea midfielder curled a devilish corner into the penalty area from the Nigeria left, and Umar rose to expertly guide the ball past Hojbjerg.
Despite a late chance for substitute Oluwafemi Ajayi, the Nigerians did not add to their lead, but progressed serenely through to the semi-finals.
The Danes head home without a medal, unable to match or better the 1960 side that claimed silver in Italy.
The Nigerians will face another European team in Germany – the first meeting between the pair in an Olympic football tournament.