BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
Having settled their qualifications for this year’s FIFA U20 World Cup to be held in Poland, the Flying Eagles and three other semifinalists of the ongoing Africa U20 Championship in Niger Republic are now focused on honours in the continent.
Despite missing the last edition in Zambia, Nigeria remain the “big boys” in the competition having won the most titles (seven), as against none by the other three teams still in the race – Senegal, South Africa and Mali.
Coach Paul Aigbogun will have to calm the nerves of his charges after the Flying Eagles battled hard in their last group match to eventually pip hosts Niger Republic 1-0 and win their group.
Nigeria had started Niger 2019 on a promising style beating Burundi 2-0 but squandered other chances that would have made the fixture an unfairing pairing.
The fans at home were disappointed with a barren result in the next match against perennial foes South Africa before the host team Niger almost caused the Flying Eagles’ exit in the last group fixture.
Mali, who will try to stop Nigeria from reaching the final, lost their opening group fixture to Senegal, the most promising team of Niger 2019, They however recovered quickly to beat both Burkina Faso and Ghana, one of the pre-tournament favourites, by a lone goal. Mali accounted for the exit of Ghana, the only African team to have won the FIFA U20 World Cup, from the race for Poland 2019.
The Eagles of Mali were beaten 1-4 aggregate in the final qualifying round for the 1989 FIFA U20 World Cup runners-up by the Flying Eagles of Nigeria.
Senegal have been so ruthless at Niger 2019. After beating Mali 2-0 on Matchday 1, the Young Lions of Teranga inflicted the same scoreline on Ghana and smashed Burkina Faso 5-1 in their group’s closing game to become the only team with a 100 percent record so far.
Senegal lost in the final of the last two editions of this competition and will be seeking to go one gear up.
Their opponents, South Africa crawled to the last four. They forced Niger Republic to 1-1 outcome in their opening match and had a barren result against Nigeria before pipping Burundi 1-0 to book their semifinal place.
South Africa’s best performance in this competition was reaching the final in 1997 and losing to hosts Morocco 1-0.
Semifinal fixtures: Nigeria v Mali (4:30pm), Senegal v South Africa (7:30pm)