U20 AFCON: Flying Eagles Battle South Africa for Third Place Finish

The lottery of penalty shootout panned out in favour of Mali as Aniekeme Okon blasted his effort against the crossbar and El Bilal Toure converted his to send the Malians into the final of the 2019 Africa U20 Cup of Nations in Niamey on Wednesday.

Group A winners Nigeria started brightly, imposing their preferred short passing approach on the match and eventually finishing the regulation time with 63 percent of the possession in their favour. But the penalties favoured Mali as Nigeria lost two kicks and the Junior Eagles of Mali lost only one.

The Flying Eagles wore black armbands in honour of former Secretary General and Board Member of the Nigeria Football Federation, Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi who passed away on Monday, and the match started with a one–minute silence in honour of the departed football administrator as the Confederation of African Football acknowledged the stature of the former Nigeria international defender.

Nigeria’s romance with the crossbar started in the 3rd minute, when Abubakar Ibrahim’s pullout was diverted to the Malian crossbar. A minute later, Alhassan Adamu’s free-kick was tipped over and then, Jamil Muhammed’s teasing pullout was headed over the bar by Yahaya Nazifi.

In their determination to accomplish a second target of winning the championship trophy, after a first objective of earning a World Cup ticket was achieved with a place in the semi-finals, the Flying Eagles launched onslaught after onslaught and created opportunities but lacked that vicious marksman who takes no prisoners.

Mali goalkeeper Youssouf Koita was also in inspired form, stopping shots and headers, most notably an incredible double save in the 43rd minute when the Nigerians thought they had beaten him.

Mamadou Traore gifted Mali the opener in the 78th minute, lashing home from a swift counter-attack as goalkeeper Olawale Oremade went to the ground too early.

Substitute Pascal Onyekachi restored parity, blasting home from a loose ball. There were no clear cut opportunities in the extra time of 30 minutes.

Lassana N’Diaye, Hadji Drame, Abdoulaye Diaby, and El Bilal Toure made good from the spot for Mali, while Valentine Ozornwafor and Aniekeme Okon lost their kicks.

Nigeria will take on the loser of the second semi-final against South Africa in the match for third place on Saturday, while Mali clash with Senegal in Sunday’s final.