After winning two and drawing one match, Nigeria finished top of Group A in the 2019 Under-20 African Cup of Nations championship. First place secured a semi-final clash encounter with Mali. The game was played on Wednesday, February 13th in Niamey.
The Flying Eagles defeated Burundi in their first match which was followed by a goalless draw with South Africa. In their final group match, the young Nigerians beat the hosts Niger and finished top of the group.
While this was a good result, coach Paul Aigbogun wasn’t happy and said that his team has yet to reach their full form. He also expected them to play with less pressure now they have achieved one of their main targets – to qualify for the FIFA 2019 Under-20 World Cup.
Aigbogun hasn’t made many changes in the first three matches. The goalkeeper and the defence stayed the same throughout, while there were a couple of changes in midfield and upfront. This time Aigbogun hasn’t made any changes. Here is the full list of the starting eleven:
Goal: Olawale Oremade
Defence: Ozornwafor James, Ikouwem Utin and Zaruma Mike, Ogbu Igor
Midfielders: Jamil Mohammed, Abubakar Ibrahim, Alhassan Adamu and Aniekeme Okon
Attack: Aliyu Ibrahim and Nazifi Yahaya
With Nigeria finishing first in Group A, and Mali second in Group B, the Flying Eagles of Nigeria came into this game favourites to win it.
The first half of the game finished goalless. And there wasn’t much to report in terms of goal chances.
The second half didn’t bring any change in play, so Aigbogun decided to make a few changes. He replaced Yahaya with Paschal Onyekachi Durugbor in the 60th minute and Aboubakar with Maxwell Effiom in the 68th minute.
With the match nearing its end, Mali broke the deadlock. Mamadou Traore scored in the 79th minute to give his side the lead. Aigbogun then made another change by bringing Adeshina Gata for Aliyu Ibrahim. Finally, in the 87th minute Eagles equalized through Durugbor who had just come off the bench.
The score stayed 1:1 at the final whistle so the game went into extra time. Neither team scored in overtime, so the match was to be settled through a penalty shootout.
Both goalkeepers managed to save penalties in the first round. Udoh, Mohammed and Effiom all scored their penalties but then Okon hit the crossbar leaving it all on Oremade’s shoulders. But Toure didn’t miss to secure the win for Mali.
The Flying Eagles will have to wait a couple of years to try again. Mali are yet to win the African Cup of Nations and will have a chance to do so against either Senegal or South Africa in the final game.