Nigerian Under-20 side began their 2019 African Cup of Nations campaign on Saturday February 2nd. The tournament was officially opened with a game between the hosts Niger Republic and South Africa. The match finished with a 1:1 draw.
The Flying Eagles were up next, taking on Burundi at the Général Seyni Kountché Stadium in Niamey. Coach Paul Aigbogun instructed his players to play at a 100% even though they were favourites.
The starting eleven were:
Goal: Olawale Oremade
Defence: Ogbu Igor, Ozornwafor James, Ikouwem Utin and Zaruma Mike
Midfield: Abubakar Ibrahim, Jamil Mohammed and Aremu Afeez
Attack: Alhassan Adamu, Aliyu Ibrahim and Nazifi Yahaya
The first half finished without goals. Nigeria was the better team, creating chances but failing to score. The closest they got to scoring was in the 36th minute when Nazifi Yahaya hit the post. They had more luck in the second half.
The first goal came in the 55th minute after some great passing by the Eagles. Yahaya, the Kano Pillars forward, headed the ball into the net. Nigeria dominated ball possession and doubled their lead in the 71st minute. This time, Yahaya was the provider and Effiom Maxwell the scorer. He replaced Aliyu Ibrahim at the start of the second half.
The second goal was enough to secure the win for the Flying Eagles. Nigeria had 19 shots at goal in total, with nine hitting the target. Burundi managed only five shots, one of which hit the target.
Nigeria, Burundi, South Africa and Niger are all in Group A of the Championship. Since the first game was a draw, Nigeria are now at the top of the group standings with three points. Niger and South Africa have a point each, while Burundi are at the bottom with zero points.
Their next opponents are South Africa who they will be playing on February 5th. After that, there is only one game left, against the hosts Niger on February 8th. If Nigeria defeats the South Africans on Tuesday, they will almost certainly make the semi-finals. This is one of the main targets for this competition.
The four teams who reach the semi-finals will represent Africa at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup later in the year. If they win the AFCON, it will be for the eighth time. The last time they won was in 2015. Another title will only confirm them as the most successful Under-20 footballing nation in Africa ever.