Nigeria managed a 2-1 win over Congo on Sunday in front of a partisan capacity crowd at in Port Harcourt in their third round first leg clash of the African U-23 Championship Senegal 2015 qualifiers.
The encounter could have ended in a convincing win for the hosts after overwhelming the Red Devils in the first half but the curtain raiser only came on 48 minutes through Junior Ajayi after Congo goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi failed to hold on to an acute-angled shot by Godwin Saviour. Ajayi doubled the lead six minutes later when he powered home with a brilliant header off a cross from Daniel Etor.
However, Moise Nkonkou’s goal in the 66th minute when he rammed home a rebound from Nigeria’s goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel means there is still very much to play for in the second leg in Pointe Noire in a fortnight.
Congo coach, Claude Leroy is hopeful that his wards can end the Nigeria’s dream for a place at the eight team tournament later in the year.
“We never contemplated about beating the Nigerian team at home because we are still dreaming to be like Dream Team of Nigeria. Today we lost 2-1 but it was the Nigerian team that created a lot of chances. They were better but 2-1 loss is not too bad for my players,” said the veteran Frenchman.
For his Nigerian counterpart, Samson Siasia, there are reasons to be optimistic since his charges have shown overtime that they are good travelers following recent victories away when they dispatched off Gabon (4-1) and Zambia (2-0) in Libreville and Lusaka respectively to seal qualification for the African Games Brazzaville 2015.
“We were carried away (after scoring two goals) instead of concentrating on the match. These are the areas we are going to look at (before the second leg). This team is still young. We have a lot of things to put in place. There is a lot of work to do before the second leg in Congo but I’m comfortable with the score line today,” Siasia observed.
Elsewhere in Blida, a first half brace from Abdelhakim Amokrane gave Algeria a 2-0 win over Sierra Leone. The reverse will take place in Blida on Saturday, 25 July 2015.
Tatenda Musona levelled six minutes from time to earn the Warriors one-all draw against neighbours, South Africa in Harare. Keagan Doli shot the visitors up on 66 minutes.
Striker Achraf Bencharki converted a penalty on the stroke of half time as Morocco beat regional rivals, Tunisia 1-0 in Rabat.
Holders Gabon suffered a shocking 1-0 loss at home to Mali whilst Egypt moved to the brink of a place at the final tournament after a 4-0 drubbing of Uganda on Saturday in Alexandria.
Midfielder Mahmoud Abdel Moneam starred with two well-taken goals, whilst Mohamed Salem and teenage sensation, Ramadan Sobhi also found target to give the Pharaohs a convincing win in the first leg meeting of the final round.
Led by out-of-favour Sporting Lisbon defender, Ramy Rabia, Egypt got off well and needed just eight minutes to break the deadlock, Salem heading home from a Mohamed Adel Gomaa cross.
The turning point of the game was the introduction of Ahmed Refaat for Trezeguet on 65 minutes, as the ENPPI forward will go on to create assists for the next two goals.
Two minutes after coming on, Refaat passed to Abdel Moneam nicknamed ‘Kahraba’ which means electricity in Arabic, who controlled with his right before firing a spectacular shot from 24-metres which beat Omar Salim for the second goal.
On 80 minutes, Refaat this time put Sobhi through, and the 18-year old exhibited so much maturity, weaving past Uganda defender Richard Kassaga and rounding goalie, Salim before firing into the yawning net to take the game beyond the Kobs.
In added-on time, Abdel Moneam completed the rout in a similar fashion, rounding Omar before slamming into the net.
In Libreville, France-based striker Adama Niane’s 77th minute effort was all Mali needed to beat the reigning champions. It was Niane, who plays for FC Nantes’ fourth goal of the campaign, but was sent off a minute after scoring the match winner for a second yellow card.
Visiting ten-man Zambia held Cote d’Ivoire to a barren draw in Abidjan. Chipolopolo defender Boyd Mkandawire was sent off for a yellow card on 62 minutes, but Fighton Simukonda’s charges held their own against the Ivorians.
The second legs will take place in a fortnight with winners qualifying for the final tournament of the African U-23 Championship scheduled for 28 November to 12 December in Senegal, where the top three teams will represent Africa at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and the fourth placed team facing an Asian side in a playoff.

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