The Nigerian Youngsters made it through to the 2019 World Cup last sixteen because they were one of the four best teams who finished third in their respective group. Four points from one win and a draw wasn’t enough to get them through on their own merits.
To make it more of a challenge, they were drawn against Senegal in the last of sixteen match. Coach Aigbogun fielded the following team, once again without, arguably, his most talented player, Tom Dele-Bashiru: Oremade in goal, Zulkifilu, Aliyu, Ogbu and Udoh in defence, Ofoborh and Michael as the holding midfielders, Makanjoula, Okon, Effiom and Tijani as forwards.
This was the same team which was defeated by Ukraine in the group stage. Sagna scored for Senegal in the 36th minute after some insecure defending by Zulkifilu. Worse off, they went into the break 2:0 down after Nione slotted the ball behind Oremade following a cross from the left.
At the start of the second half, there was a glimmer of hope for the Flying Eagles as a Makanjoula strike deflected off Okon and into the goal. But even bringing Dele-Bashiru in couldn’t change the outcome of the game. Senegal won 2:1 and are through to the quarter-final stage. There, they will meet the Korean Republic on June 8th.
While the Nigerians had much more ball possession of the ball, they had less shots and weren’t clinical enough with their attempts on target. However, Nigerian head coach Paul Aigbogun was adamant that the young squad achieved what they had set out to do in this World Cup which was to reach the last sixteen.
While he said that he didn’t see the incident where they were almost awarded a penalty and therefore couldn’t comment on it, he added that he was proud of the way his Eagles fought back in the second half. Furthermore, he wouldn’t say much about why Dele-Bashiru didn’t play from the start, apart from that it was a team decision to bring him in for the second half even though he was fit to start.
This was the first time in their last seven attempts at the trophy that Nigeria couldn’t reach the Under-20 World Cup finals. In the end, their performance at the tournament was marred by their protests in the hotel afterwards. Apparently, the Nigerian Football Federation has failed to pay them their entitlements like their camp allowances and the bonus for reaching the last sixteen. They all missed their flights home that evening.
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