Nigeria crowned Africa’s best on sand

7 July 2009

Nigeria were crowned African champions when they beat Cote d’Ivoire 7-4 in a thrilling final of the Africa qualifiers for the 2009 Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup in Durban on Sunday. It was a second title for the West African powerhouse, following their success in 2007.

Both teams had already qualified for the Beach Soccer World Cup by making it into the title decider.

South Africa failed to advance beyond the group stage, but pre-tournament predictions that the host’s group was the toughest were proved correct. SA went down to Morocco in their opening match and then fell 7-6 to the defending champions Senegal after extra time.

SA’s opponents

Morocco went on to thrash Mozambique 9-3 to finish fifth, while Senegal were edged out by the champions, Nigeria, in the semi-finals, going down 7-6 after leading 4-1 heading into the second period.

Nigeria’s win came on the back of a superb defensive performance, most notably by Ogbonnaya Okemirri who was rock solid in containing the Cote d’Ivoire strikers.

The match was played at a hectic pace, with no let up, and both teams going all out to take control as play swung from end to end. With shots raining in on both goalkeepers, either team could have scored numerous times before Cote d’Ivoire got the first breakthrough – but the opening goal came seconds after a missed chance at the other end.

Cote d’Ivoire lead

Didier Kabletchi netted the first for Cote d’Ivoire from a quick break after Nigerian Isiaki Olwale had mis-kicked with a wide open goal in front of him at the other end of the park. However, from that point on Nigeria took command, with the front running duo of Olawale and Baba Yahaya combining brilliantly to bamboozle the stressed Cote d’Ivoire defence.

In the first period the combination shared the goals, with Olawale getting the first and third, both set up by Yahaya, while his partner got the second, to leave Nigeria in control with a 3-1 lead at the first break.

The second stanza was almost identical to the first, except that Cote d’Ivoire were able to get on the score sheet again with only 40 seconds of the period left when Thomas Ehounou scrambled the ball into the net.

Lead doubled

Before his strike, it was once again Olawale and Yahaya who were giving the Ivorian defence a tough time. They both scored again, while Victor Tale also found the back of the net. At the end of the second period, the Nigerians had doubled their advantage to 6-2.

The play swung back and forth, and even though Cote d’Ivoire managed to pull edge the third period, another Olawale goal took the final tally to 7-4 to Nigeria.

After the match there was some consolation for Cote d’Ivoire as their goalkeeper Kevin Enam was named the Goalkeeper of the Tournament.

Nigeria’s Olawale picked up two big awards – Player of the Tournament and Top Goal Scorer.

Third place playoff

Last year’s champions Senegal faced Egypt in the playoff for third and fourth place. Two early goals by the Senegalese, which put them 2-0 ahead after only 90 seconds, proved to be the difference in the game.

From that point onwards, the goals were shared, with both teams netting four times. Mourtada Ndour starred for the winners, scoring four times.

It was a tight contest heading into the final period, with Senegal only 3-2 ahead, but they pulled 6-3 ahead before Mohammed Rashid scored a late consolation goal for the Egyptians.

The semi-finals had produced two thrilling contests. In an absolute humdinger, Nigeria sneaked past Senegal by seven goals to six, while Cote d’Ivoire overcame a disastrous first period to oust Egypt in a penalty shootout after the teams had ended regulation time level at 8-8.

First semi-final

In the first match, Nigeria fought back from three goals down to edge past Senegal 7-6, and then, just when spectators though that spectacle could not be bettered, Cote d’Ivoire overcame a disastrous first period to oust Egypt in a penalty shootout after the teams ended the regulation time at 8-8.

While the Nigerians beat the Senegalese, it took an astonishing finish to take them into the final. While the 2007 champions appeared to be the better side out on the sand, the scoreboard after the first period did not reflect that at all. Scoring against the run of play, Senegal enjoyed a 4-1 lead.

Despite both teams going at it hammer and tongs in the second period, neither was able to score as a combination of wayward shooting, great goalkeeping, and some bad luck prevented any change to the score taking place.

Third period

In the third period, Senegal opted to defend their lead and they paid dearly for it as Nigeria were able to run at them and create opportunities. Within a minute the lead was reduced to two goals, after Yahaya drew a foul and smashed the resulting free kick home.

Then, a flurry of four goals within only 90 seconds turned the match on its head. Isiaka Olawale netted twice to even the scores and Baba struck to put Nigeria ahead for the first time. However, the lead lasted just 35 seconds before Jean Koupaki pulled Senegal back on level terms again.

With only five minutes left in the match, Koupaki slotted his second to take Senegal back into the lead. Instead of sticking to what had worked for them, the defending champions opted to once more defend their lead. It didn’t work.

Olawale scrambled the ball into the net from a melee in front of the goals to level things up once more with just over three minutes to play. Then, in contrast to his first two goals which were rocketed into the net, he displayed a delicate touch to guide the ball into the corner and away from the outstretched arms of keeper Ndiaye Al Seyni.

From villain to hero

The match between the Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt saw Ivorian goalkeeper Kevin Enam go from villain to hero.

Enam gained the plaudits after the match following his penalty save of Ahmed Hany’s kick, which secured the win for his side, but earlier in the contest he was cast in a less favourable light after the unique challenges of playing football on a beach exposed him twice. In the first period he was beaten by two shots, from Almoataz Elahalim and Ahmed Ahmed, both of which bounced bizarrely off the uneven sand and beat him.

The well organised and slick Egyptians were given a further boost they could not have dreamed of a couple of minutes later when inspirational Cote d’Ivoire star and playmaker Frederic Aka was red carded following two instances mindless stupidity.

He was firstly shown a yellow card after he tried to gain some ground on a free kick after being warned not to, and he then deliberately tripped opposition goalkeeper Mohamed Issa, who already had the ball safely in his hands, to be shown red.

Two goals down at the first break, and a player down, it could have spelt the end of Cote d’Ivoire’s hopes before the start of the second period.

Goal blitz

But a blitz of three goals within two minutes of the start of the second period, one from Ludovic Ehounou and two from Landry Djimi, put the Ivorians ahead.

The teams then swopped goals as the game ebbed and flowed at a fast pace. The final break was signalled with Cote d’Ivoire 5-4 ahead after Salomon Ouraga got on the scoresheet and Djimi completed a hat-trick, while Moustafa Abdelrahman and Ahmed replied for Egypt.

Egypt equallised a minute into the final period when Ahmed scored his third, and he netted his fourth from the penalty sport 90 seconds later, to put the Sand Pharaohs ahead.

Egypt kept their lead for six minutes until Ouraga somehow managed to squeeze a goal from a sandy scramble in the goalmouth with only four minutes remaining in the game.

A pinpoint shot into the bottom corner from Elahalim gave the Egyptians hope of a place in the final, but Ehounou, only seconds after being booked for incessantly chirping the referees, was able to take the match into extra time.

The extra three minutes produce a goal apiece, with Djimi looking like he had clinched victory for the central Africans with his hat-trick goal, only for Rashid Mohamed to level matters and take the game to a penalty shootout.

SAinfo reporter

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material