Eagles will fly again

ROB BRODIE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

Zambia's gutsy Copper Bullets emptied out every last bit of their soccer arsenal last night.

But it's the Flying Eagles of Nigeria who'll soar on to the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup after posting a 2-1 victory before 22,531 thoroughly entertained spectators at Frank Clair Stadium.

It was billed as a feast of African football, and Nigeria and Zambia both delivered in a match filled with breath-taking offensive play. Only three goals were scored, but it wasn't for lack of effort.

Nigeria, which reached the U-20 World Cup final two years ago in the Netherlands, kept on chugging in the same direction again. But after falling to Argentina 3-1 in the 2005 title match, this is a nation with an eye on bigger things this time.

"The most important thing in football globally is the tournament," said Nigeria coach Ladan Basso afterward. "Even if you play badly and win, let's go (forward)."

The Zambians' disappointment was tempered by the fact they made history by reaching the second round. Coach George Lwandamina called the experience invaluable for his young players.

"I cannot say I'm not happy," he said. "The experience the boys have gotten here will make (the tournament) a milestone in their future."

The Nigerians wasted little time getting on the board before a crowd that was largely theirs. In the third minute, Uwa Echiejile sharply headed a Solomon Owello corner kick past keeper Jacob Banda.

In the 33rd minute, however, Zambia levelled matters, as Rodgers Kola notched the first goal of the tournament against Nigeria. Emmanuel Mayuka supplied the cross that a falling Kola headed past the reach of Nigeria goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa.

As a driving first-half rain gave way to sunshine, the game turned one more time after the break. In the 57th minute, Chukwuma Akabueze launched a howitzer of a shot from just outside the penalty area. A leaping Banda didn't have a prayer of stopping it.

With constant threat Clifford Mulenga supplying a lot of the energy, the Zambians pushed hard to equalize in the final minutes. But the Nigerian defence stood strong.

Nigeria handled Zambia 4-2 in African qualifying back in January, but Bosso said he noticed "drastic improvement" in his rival last night. Not to mention better play out of his own side.

"As we play the matches, we are blending more (as a team)," he said. "I'm hoping the boys keep improving every match."

Zambia's players will head home with heads held high.

"We showed our character," said midfielder Peter Malama. "The best team won ... it was their day. But we made our country proud."


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