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Nigeria fumble as Mali, Guinea through to Morocco 2023 U23 AFCON




All the eight countries to play at the 2023 Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) were known on Tuesday night following the conclusion of the qualifying phase for the tournament.

The final phase climaxed in style on Tuesday night with five more teams qualifying while giants Nigeria and Senegal crashed out.

Nigeria, the 2015 U-23 AFCON champions, failed to make it through after falling 2-0 to Guinea in the return leg played at the Stade Moulay Hassan in Rabat, Morocco.

The first-leg ended goalless and the return leg was a different ball game as Guinea rose to the occasion to snatch the ticket.

Second-half goals by Algassime Bah and Alseny Soumah were enough to ensure Guinea qualified for their first time on a 2-0 goal aggregate.

After losing the first leg 3-1 to Senegal, the Mali team turned tables to win the return leg 3-0 in a match played at Stade du 26 Mars, Bamako.


The tense first half ended goalless after both teams came close to scoring. But a charged Mali team returned determined to find the goals and scored through Hamidou Diallo after 61 minutes, before Kamory Doumbia made it 2-0 four minutes later.

It was a tense last 20 minutes as the Senegal team tried to fight back. But Mali were awarded a penalty which Mamadou Sangare made no mistake by converting after 72 minutes.

Gabon also qualified for their first ever U-23 AFCON tournament after stopping hosts Cameroon 7-6 on penalties.

Etiene Emmanuel Eto’o Fils had netted the lone goal for Cameroon at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde to take the decision to penalties since Gabon had also won by the same margin in the first leg.

The Ghana U-23 team that had managed to pick a 1-1 draw in the first leg against Algeria this time home advantage count with a 1-0 victory.


Abdul Fatawu Issahaku scored the lone goal after 12 minutes to ensure Ghana qualified for their second U-23 AFCON tournament.

Niger also qualified after picking a shocking 2-1 away win in Sudan at the Al Hilal Stadium in Omdurman. The first leg ended goalless.

Mali, Gabon, Guinea, Ghana and Niger now join hosts Morocco, Congo and defending champions Egypt for the tournament.

The U-23 AFCON will also be used as a qualifier for the 2024 Summer Olympics men’s football tournament in Paris, France.


Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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