Mikel John Obi was a major actor in Nigeria’s progress to the semifinals of the men’s football event at the Olympics as they defeated Denmark 2-0 at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador on Saturday.
The Chelsea man, one of two overaged players in the Nigeria Under-23 team, scored the opening goal and assisted Aminu Umar with the second as the Africans cruise into the medal zone at the Olympic Games in Brazil.
Nigeria started the game without Oghenekaro Etebo, who suffered a knock in their last group game against Colombia.
Just 52 seconds into the game, Usman Mohammed’s sidefooted effort is claimed by the Danish goalkeeper, Jeppe Hojbjerg.
The Danes then produced one frightening moment earlier in the game when Casper Nielsen showed great ball control before aiming a looping attempt at goal which grazed the woodwork with Nigeria goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel rooted to the spot.
On the quarter of an hour into the match, Nigeria captain, Mikel John Obi opened scoring. Imoh Ezekiel popped up on the left channel and beat his marker for pace before squaring low into the Danish box for the Chelsea man to sweep home.
On 20 minutes, Ezekiel turned and twisted inside of Danish right-back Desler Puggaard to set himself up for the kill, but the 22-year-old disappointingly blazed over from close range when he could have doubled the lead for his team.
After finding it difficult to go through the Nigerian backline through any sort of passing style, they adopted route-one and on two occasions, the Africans were found wanting but Daniel produced two saves from Frederik Borsting.
Just after the half hour, the Europeans enjoyed a flurry of activities inside their opponents territory but had to deal with many men behind the ball.
In the final 10 minutes to the break, Nigeria resumed normal service and Mikel swept in a wicked cross in the Danish area which simply flashed across goal without no teammates to connect. Within seconds, Stanley Amuzie ventured out of his left-back position to smash a fierce effort at goal which was deflected out for a corner.
Right on the stroke of half time, Edigerson Gomes forced Daniel into a save to ensure that Nigeria take their one-goal lead into the locker room.
Nigeria began the second 45 minutes with so much energy but nearly conceded in the 55th minute when Brunn Larsen’s swerving free kick had to be saved by Daniel through unconventional means to keep the one-goal lead of the Africans intact.
Three minutes later, Amuzie’s effort with his weaker foot forced the Danish goalkeeper into a scrambling save. And from the corner, well-delivered by Mikel was glanced in past Hojbjerg by Aminu Umar to give Nigeria a two-goal lead after 59 minutes.
Just past the hour, Mikel delivered another inch-perfect corner kick into the Danes’ area and Ezekiel met it at the near post but missed target a whisker away.
Nigeria will now face Germany in the semifinals.