John Obi Mikel and Aminu Umar strikes sent Nigeria into the semi-finals of the Olympics at the expense of Denmark, as Samson Siasia’s side ran out 2-0 winners in Salvador.
Much has been made of Oghenekaro Etebo’s absence against the Europeans owing to injury, but they proved they are no one-man team with an impressive display at the Arena Fonte Nova.
Mikel led by example as he put his team ahead in the first half, but it was Umar who proved to be Nigeria’s match-winner with a fine header.
The African nation entered the match under the cloud of a dispute over bonus payments with the Nigeria Football Federation and ministry of sports. Aside from that, they came in for criticism following their disjointed display against Colombia in their last group game, but started on the front foot and were rewarded with a place in the semis.
Imoh Ezekiel’s dazzling run down the defence of the Danes threatened and he almost put the Dream Team VI ahead in the second minute but goalkeeper Jeppe Hojberg was forced to make a good save.
Nigeria’s pace and drive in attack left Demark disorganised and when Mikel hacked in from Ezekiel’s 16th-minute pass, it marked a rare moment of inspiration for Siasia’s team.
As in the first half, Dream Team VI weathered pressure and finished stronger – Sadiq Umar’s miss and heroics from Emmanuel Daniel denying Jens Jonsson and Pascal Gregor.
Nigeria were brimming with confidence, but they were almost caught before the break, when Edigerson Gomes forced goalkeeper Daniel to make a master save.
Mikel was at the heart of everything and he saw his well-tailored corner kick finds Umar’s head to drive home the winner.
With Denmark forced to push men forward, they left themselves vulnerable on the break and Lloris saved well from Stanley Amuzie, who ought to have done better sixminutes from time.
With this victory, Nigeria will face Germany in Sao Paulo on Wednesday with the winner getting a ticket to play in the final billed for Brazil’s football cathedral, Maracana.