IHF Youth tourney: Nigeria force N/Macedonia to work for first win

The Nigeria U19 boys’ team made host North Macedonia work for their first win as the Nigerians lost 34-37 at the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship.

It was 60 minutes of intense battle as both teams fought for the two points at stake with the European side ultimately coming out on top and adding their first two points to the table.

North Macedonia held a four-goal lead more than once in the first half before Nigeria fought back, and it was a close second period with the African side always threatening.

As hosts and a nation playing within handball’s most competitive continent, it seemed North Macedonia would have the edge ahead of the round two clash against Nigeria. But the match turned out to be a tough encounter for the home team, who led by just two goals at the break and had to survive a difficult second period in order to collect their first victory at the Youth World Championship.

It was a huge contest between three players in particular. Nigeria line player Ebinatei Kiripoimini Ekpodio was a nightmare for the Macedonians’ defence, as he led his side with six goals in the first period and finished with a total of 11. The African team stuck largely with their starting six throughout the match, while North Macedonia could afford a little more rotation with their greater depth.

For the hosts, Martin Serafimov and Nenad Kosteski combined for 11 goals in the first half and totalled 10 and 13, respectively.

The hosts were lulled into a false sense of security in the opening 20 minutes, as they pulled ahead to lead comfortably at 11:7 by the 16th minute and 13:9 in the 20th. Four consecutive goals – three from Ekpodio – saw Nigeria draw level, 13:13, but the hosts managed to edge in front again before the break.

The two-goal distance was far from comfortable, and though North Macedonia always held the edge, Nigeria equalised multiple times in the second period. With 15 minutes on the clock, the score was level at 25:25 – and that proved to be the last chance for Nigeria. Led by six goals from Kosteski in the last quarter, the hosts tightened their hold on the match.

After Faruk Yusuf pulled Nigeria within one at 30:31 in the 54th minute, the hosts scored three unanswered goals that decided the outcome. Nigeria broke a four-minute scoring drought in the 58th minute, but at that point, North Macedonia had created a four-goal distance that was too much for the African team to overcome so late in the game.

When Serafimov added his ninth goal inside the last two minutes and put the score at 36:32, the two points were decided.