27 Apr. 2023
Nigeria ended the group phase of the 2023 IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship on a high, with a clear 35:17 win over Azerbaijan, the biggest margin so far in the competition after 12 games.
The African side will now face Great Britain in the Placement Matches 5-8, aiming to improve their best position in the competition, the seventh place at Georgia 2019.
- Azerbaijan vs Nigeria 17:35 (7:18)
Four years ago, in their maiden appearance at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, at Georgia 2019, Nigeria had to wait three games for their first win. In their return to the competition, they secured their first win at Bulgaria 2023 in their second match, in what proved to be a rout and the largest win so far.
It was an exciting start for Nigeria, which duly took advantage of each and every mistake made by Azerbaijan in attack, with devastating fast breaks converted after their opponents turned the ball over 17 times in attack.
The main responsible for converting fast breaks? Right back Faruk Yusuf, the rising star of Nigerian handball, finished the first half with six goals, three of which came via fast breaks, as Nigeria were simply impossible to stop, displaying amazing speed on that part of the ball.
An 11:2 start for Nigeria, which saw Azerbaijan score only two goals in the first 15 minutes of the first half, was the cue that the African side would cruise to the win, with such a big gap becoming quickly unassailable for their opponents.
Sure, Azerbaijan managed to balance the game out, but it was also Nigeria lifting their foot from the pedal, but Nasser Salimi’s side could only muster a meagre 41% shooting efficiency while turning the ball over 17 times in what was a truly disappointing performance.
The 11-goal gap at the break just got bigger and bigger throughout the second half, as the game had the same scenario, with Nigeria punishing their opponents on fast breaks.
Yusuf extended his superb run in the game, finishing it with a 13-goal performance, taking his overall tally in the competition to 19 goals, the second largest after the group phase, only two goals shy of the leader, Andorra’s Unai Ruiz.
Without dropping a beat, Nigeria jumped to a 35:17 win, their second-largest in history at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, failing to beat their record set in 2019, 40:13 against Malta. The last game of the group phase at Bulgaria 2023 was also the most lopsided one, with Nigeria’s win being the highest yet in the competition.
Nigeria claimed the second place in the group standings after Wednesday’s loss against Bulgaria and will meet Great Britain in the Placement Matches 5-8 on Saturday, while Azerbaijan finish last and will try to avoid ending on the last place when they meet Guatemala.
Player of the Match: Obinna Ani (Nigeria)