Nigeria’s youth national team, Flying Eagles have shifted their focus to Wednesday, when they will line out in the semi-finals of the 2019 African U-20 Cup of Nations, with a mission to pick a spot in the final.
It is a date with history, as the Nigerian squad is edging closer to an eighth conquest of the continent, but observers are worried that they might not put in total determination.
This is sequel to the acquisition of a ticket to the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup from their 1-0 win against Niger Republic on Friday, a game in which the Nigerian squad struggled against the hosts and barely escaped with the skin of their teeth.
The match held in a packed Seyni Koutche Stadium, Niamey, which saw Paul Osahon Aigbogun’s side battling goose pimples, as they were stretched to the limit, especially in the second half, due to immense pressure from their desperate opponents.
Despite overwhelming support the hosts enjoyed throughout the match, Flying Eagles captain, Ikouwem Udoh Utin and his colleagues held their nerves and showed glimpses of brilliance to get the edge, following Ibrahim Alhassan’s 73rd minute direct free kick.
However, heading into Wednesday’s semi-final, Aigbogun must tell his lads to avoid being wasteful and anxious, as they were for the larger part of Friday’s game against Niger Republic.
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.
However, the Nigerians kept their cool and picked up the win to guarantee their spot at the global youth championship later in the year.
Nonetheless, history is on Nigeria’s side heading into Wednesday’s tie, as the seven-time winners have an impressive pedigree in the U20 AFCON, which they won for the first time in 1983 by defeating Ivory Coast 2-1.
Nigeria also clinched the next three editions in 1985, 1987 and 1989 by beating Tunisia, Togo and Mali in the finals respectively, then also won the 2005, 2011 and 2015 editions, by beating Egypt, Cameroon and Senegal respectively in finals, to become the competition’s most successful side.
Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia, Algeria, Morocco, Angola and Congo are the other countries that have also won what used to be known as African Youth Championship (AYC).