By beating long-time rivals Ghana, the Flying Eagles made it into the semi-finals of the WAFU Cup tournament, where on Friday they met their opponents Mali. Winning this competition would make for great preparation and a good confidence booster ahead of the U-20 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in February next year. The two sides have played against each other only once before, and Nigeria were the winners on that occasion.
While the Eagles were favourites for the win, it was Mali who scored first through Sambou Sissoko in the 20th minute. It was a tight first 45 minutes with neither side managing to create an opening. A minute was added to the half, but Mali kept their lead going into the break.
Same as against Ghana, Nigeria were behind at the start of the second half. However, they were quick out of the gates at the restart this time scoring an equalizer in the 47th minute. Ozornwafor Valentine James was the scorer for the Flying Eagles.
Both teams tried to break the deadlock and win but at the final whistle, after the full 90 minutes and a total of four minutes added on, they were still tied at 1:1. This meant that the winner would be decided in a penalty shootout.
The young Nigerians were confident and scored all five penalties. Nevertheless, the hero of the game was Olawale Oremade, the Eagles goalkeeper who saved the last Mali penalty kick and gave his team the victory and a trip to the finals of the Cup.
Their opponents in the final will be Senegal. They played Niger in another tight encounter which finished 2:2 at the end of regulation, taking this match too into a penalty shootout. Abdoulaye Salou Issah was twice the scorer for Niger while Ousseynou Niang and Souleymane Aw found the net for Senegal. The Senegalese had more concentration, winning the shootout 4:2 to book their place in the final.
Nigeria and Senegal will lock horns on Sunday, satisfied by the way their teams have performed in this Cup and feeling confident for the AFCON in 2019. However, the winning team will be even happier.
This tournament is a great way for teams, including Nigeria and Senegal, to prepare for the upcoming Cup of Nations. Coach Paul Aigbogun praised his players after the match against Mali and hopes they will battle the same on Sunday and take down Senegal as well.
After the final game, both Senegal and Nigeria will continue their preparations for the 2019 U-20 AFCON.