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SA U17 Lose To Nigeria, On Verge Of Exit

South Africa U17 have one foot out the exit door of the CAF U17 Africa Cup of Nations after they lost 3-2 to Nigeria U17 in their final Group B match in Algeria.

It was a fixture Duncan Crowie’s team had to get a result in. Due to the withdrawal of South Sudan and CAF’s insistence on using the head-to-head rule, South Africa’s win over Zambia was basically null and void when deciding the best-placed third teams, as results against teams that finished fourth weren’t counted in the equation. 

So despite being the only third-placed team with a win in this competition, South Africa are not currently among the two best third-placed team qualification spots. Sunday’s final game of the group stages between Cameroon and Burkina Faso will come into play, and a draw or low-scoring win will see it be curtains for the third-placed team in Group B. Adding to the lunacy of this rule, there is still a good chance one of those two teams could qualify for the last eight ahead of South Africa despite losing both their games. 

Victory for Crowie’s team would have however ensured qualification as they would’ve then moved ahead of Nigeria. Both Amajimbos and the Golden Eaglets had beaten Zambia and lost to Morocco in their previous games. And with head-to-head in play, that meant Morocco would top the group and Zambia would finish fourth, no matter the results today. Zambia beat Morocco 2-1 in their final game, but it made no difference.

But it was a great start for Crowie’s team as they stunned Nigeria early. Vicky Mkhawana fired them into the lead in the 5th minute, a well-taken shot after Waylon Renecke’s initial header from a corner hit the upright.

Nigeria came back strongly. Two minutes later Abubakar Abdullahi fired just wide of Gennaro Johnson’s goal. They had the ball in the back of the net in the 10th minute, but from an off-side position while Johnson saved Tochukwu Ogbabido’s effort a minute later.

South Africa had a few more chances, Siyabonga Mabena’s long-range effort in the 14th minute was always going off target, while Gomolemo Kekana’s free kick was saved by Richard Odoh.

But it was the Nigerians who kept throwing everything at the South Africans, desperate to get back into the game. Much of the first half saw the Eaglets with possession and trying shots from range. Charles Agada forced a save from Johnson in the 29th minute, while Abdullahi went narrowly wide again four minutes later.

And with Amajimbos camped in their own half, the equaliser finally came as Agada headed in from Gabriel Amato’s clearing header from a corner in the 35th minute with Johnson caught off his line. 

Mkhawana had another chance in the 39th minute, but couldn’t direct his header at goal. Meanwhile, the Eaglets continued to threaten, trying from range a few times, and they looked the team more likely to score again. 

Just before the break, a goalmouth clearance kept the score level, before Johnson made an excellent save to deny Abdullahi from close range. 

It looked like they’d go into halftime level, but after being frustrated for most of the half, Mabena showed why he is so highly-rated. Deep in stoppage time, the Mamelodi Sundowns youngster showed his class, as he expertly dribbled past two defenders, entering the box and firing a shot past Odoh that struck the crossbar and bounced over the goal line. 

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Just as they’d done at the start of the half, the South African stunned the Nigerians, and after 45 minutes, South Africa led 2-1.

But the second half started with Nigerian striking immediately, as Light Eke grabbed the equaliser in the opening minute, tapping in at the far post, after a good run by Agada down the right. Nigeria continued to press, Abdullahi shooting over in the 53rd minute. 

Mabena had a great opportunity to get his second in the 57th minute but was unable to get a proper foot on the ball after a good ball into the box from substitute Dhakier Lee.

But it was the Nigerians who went into the lead in the 65th minute, as Abdullahi got to the end of cross and tapped in, albeit from what looked like a slightly off-side position.

With tired legs, the South Africans pushed hard for a goal, but it was Nigeria who almost scored again in the 82nd minute, but Eke’s attempt struck the crossbar, while Johnson made a good save a minute later.

And so when the final whistle blew, it was Nigeria who walked away the points.

South Africa’s future in the competition is not completely over, but barring a big victory for either Burkina Faso or Cameroon on Sunday, they will head back to South Africa on Monday.In layman’s terms, for South Africa to qualify, they would need Cameroon to win by two goals or Burkina Faso to win by one goal, and the losers to not score more than two in the result.

Rob Delport
Rob Delport
Rob Delport is a walking football encyclopedia, having been a mainstay in the Cape Town football scene for years. Rob has previously worked for SABC and various websites and publications across Africa, as well as being the South African Head Researcher for Football Manager and doing a similar role occasionally for EA Sports FIFA. Highly respected, Rob is now a senior iDiski Times website and newspaper writer, and is also responsible for the newspaper's editorial.