The Flying Eagles on Friday booked their place in the semi-finals of the ongoing Total U-20 African Cup of Nations in Niger Republic after defeating the hosts 1-0 in Group A.
The Flying Eagles will meet the winners of the tie between Ghana and Mali in Group B on Saturday (today). Senegal emerged winners of the group to also book a place in Poland.
The Flying Eagles’ lone strike, which came in the 73rd minute through Adamu Alhassan, equally saw the Nigerian youngsters book a spot in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland between May 25 and June 16.
The encounter, which had the Seyni Koutche Stadium in Niamey, the Niger capital, filled to the brim, stretched the coach Paul Aigbogun side to the limits, especially in the second half, when the opponents piled intense pressure on the young Nigerians.
Despite the overwhelming support the hosts enjoyed throughout the match, the Flying Eagles, captained by Ikouwem Utin, held their nerves, taking their foes head on for the duration of the battle.
Though the Flying Eagles showed glimpses of brilliance during the tie, they were wasteful and quite anxious for the larger part of the game – areas many observers think Aigbogun, one-time Enyimba and Warri Wolves coach, must quickly work on ahead of the semi-final duel against the runners-up in Group B.
The Flying Eagles began their campaign on a winning note, beating Burundi 2-0 before playing a goalless draw against South Africa. That result meant that the team had to get at least a draw against Niger on Friday to remain in the competition and also book their place in Poland.
The Nigerians kept their cool and picked up the win to guarantee their spot at the global youth championship later in the year.
Nigeria, seven-time winners of the competition, have an impressive history in the AFCON U-20 over the years, producing several stars in the process.
The team won the competition for the first time in 1983 by defeating Ivory Coast 2-1. It clinched the next three editions in 1985, 1987 and 1989 by beating Tunisia, Togo and Mali in the finals respectively.
The 2005, 2011 and 2015 editions were also won by the team after it saw off Egypt, Cameroon and Senegal respectively in the final matches, making it the competition’s most successful side.
Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia, Algeria, Morocco, Angola and Congo are the other countries that have also won the tournament.
Apart from Nigeria, South Africa and Senegal have also qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland, leaving Ghana and Mali to slug it out for the last ticket when the two sides meet in their final Group B game on Saturday.
Burundi, Burkina Faso and hosts Niger all failed to progress in the competition and also book a place at the U-20 World Cup in May.