After a great start to the 2019 Under-20 African Cup of Nations and topping Group A, Nigeria lost to Mali in the semi-finals. The Flying Eagles finished the group stage with two wins and a draw, ahead of South Africa in the table. The two sides met in the second match of the competition. The game ended in a goalless draw.
In the semi-finals, Nigeria lost to Mali after a penalty shootout. The score was 1:1 after regulation. Mali won 4:3 after the ensuing penalties were taken. South Africa took on Senegal in the other semi-final and lost 1:0 in a closely fought match.
Since they both lost the semis, Nigeria and South Africa met on Saturday, February 16th to decide which team will take third place and the bronze medal. Coach Paul Aigbogun naturally made a few changes to the starting line-up for this match:
Goal: Detan Ogundare
Defence: Mike Zaruma, Igoh Ogbu, Valentine Ozornwafor and Solomon Ogberahwe
Midfield: Adamu Alhassan, Jamil Muhammad, Peter Eletu and Maxwell Effiom
Attack: Aliyu Ibrahim and Paschal Onyekachi Durugbor
The Eagles kicked the game off slowly testing the Amajita defence. Their first chance came after eleven minutes when Jamil Muhammad volleyed the ball over the crossbar.
The South Africans parked the bus in front of their goal, practically inviting Nigeria to attack. But they defended well, and the Eagles were struggling to get looks at goal despite having more possession of the ball. Effiom failed to get on the ball in the 32nd minute for another missed opportunity. The halftime ended goalless.
The second half didn’t bring any changes to the play. Peter Eletu was substituted by Ibrahim Aboubakar in the 55th minute. South Africa decided to try and attack which left some space to counter-attack and Nigeria almost scored through Durugbor in the 60th minute. The keeper, however, got his hands on the overhead kick by the Nigerian.
In the 70th minute, Yahaya Nazifi replaced Aliyu Ibrahim. And only a minute later he was in with a chance after some bad defending from the opponents, but he missed. The Eagles had 20 shots at goal, but they were wasteful as only four hit the target. South Africans had only three shots at goal and none hit the target.
Nigeria dominated ball possession, having almost 70% of the ball, but still, South Africa managed to hold out until the final whistle. Once again, the match would be decided on penalties. And again, Nigeria weren’t clinical in their finishing, missing their first penalty and losing the shootout 5:3.
South Africa won the bronze medal. In the final match, Mali beat Senegal after a penalty shootout to win their first ever Under-20 African Cup of Nations.
All four semi-finalists, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Nigeria will compete in the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup later this year.