Nigeria’s aspiration for a record fourth Fifa Under-17 World Cup title breathed a life of its own on Saturday as the Golden Eaglets thrashed the defending champions Mexico 6-1 at the Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain, UAE.
Midfielder Kelechi Iheanacho was the star of the match with four goals to his credit while Isaac Success and Chidiebere Nwakali complimented with a goal each.
The first-half ended 2-1 with Ulises Ignacio Jaimes pulling a goal back for the Mexicans after Iheanacho had registered his brace.
The 2011 winners settled into the Group F encounter better than their counterparts but the coach Manu Garba-led lads eventually found their momentum as the game wore on.
Iheanacho worked tirelessly in the midfield in his effort to breach the Mexicans’ high tempo passing game and as well orchestrate the Nigeria U-17’s attack.
The Mexicans were threatening from set-pieces in the first 20 minutes of the encounter as they searched for the opener.
Nwakali was in hand to clear a goal line effort in the 19th minute after the Nigerian goalkeeper failed to connect with a Mexico corner.
Few minutes after Diaz’s header had missed opening scores, the Eaglets got in the ascendancy against the run of play when Iheanacho shot past two defenders following an assist from Success.
The goal reinvigourated the Nigerians as Success, whose combination with Iheanacho was becoming a torn in the opponents’ defence, started to unleash his pace and power on the Mexicans.
Another classic counter attack inspired by Success and Iheanacho resulted to the latters’ brace in the 38th minute.
The Mexicans pulled one back two minutes later as Jaimes rounded his man and placed his shot from inside the box into the corner.
Nigeria resumed the second-half looking to open up their opponents and Iheanacho got his hat-trick within 4 minutes of the restart. Chidera Ezeh flicked the ball to the midfielder from a throw-in and he fired a left-footed shot past the Mexican goalkeeper.
The Eaglets were soon running riot at goal as Nwakali shot from distance to increase the goal advantage in the 52nd minute.
Ezeh’s goal a minute later was disallowed by the referee for an offside before Success failed to make the best of a one-on-one opportunity.
Mexico’s Luis Hernandez’s shot crashed against Nigeria’s crossbar on 59 minutes but it was Success who scored a minute later as the match became a one-sided affair.
With more than an hour of action, the Mexicans seemed to have tired out and, while they couldn’t break Eaglets’ disciplined defence, they resulted to shooting from distance.
Iheanacho scored his fourth in the 71st minute, picking his angle far off the post to increase the deficit by five goals.
The rampant Nigerians failed to make the most of some late goal-scoring chances as Iheanacho, Musa Yahaya and substitute Godwin Saviour missed to extend the lead.
The Eaglets next play Iraq on Tuesday, but the emphatic victory against the defending champions will go a long way to confirm their status as title favourites.
Mexico will try to get back on track against debutantes Iraq on the same day.