NIGERIA’S U20 boys, Flying Eagles, will battle for the gold medal of the 12th African Games in Rabat, Morocco after eliminating Mali via penalty shoot-out in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Both teams failed to find the target in regulation and extra time, with Nigerian captain Abubakar Ibrahim inexplicably failing to convert a penalty kick in the 23rd minute. Penalty shoot-out again came to the rescue as happened when both battled to a 1-1 draw in the semi-finals of the Africa U20 Cup of Nations in the Niger Republic back in February.
In Niamey, Mali triumphed 4-3 after the shoot-out. But the session in Rabat on Tuesday proved comical, with the Flying Eagles showing inefficiency from the spot by throwing away their first three kicks even as goalkeeper Detan Ogundare kept saving the Malian kicks. Mike Zaruma, Rabiu Mohammed and Emeka Chinonso wasted their kicks.
Skipper Abubakar Ibrahim and Success Makanjuola scored the fourth and fifth kicks, just as the Malians did, to take the shoot-out into sudden death.
In sudden death, Samuel Nnochiri and Adesina Gata scored just as their Malian opposite numbers. But after Adewale Oladoye scored, Mali’s next kick was saved by the inspired Ogundare to take Nigeria to Friday’s final.
The Flying Eagles will be up against the winner of the second semi-final between Senegal and Burkina Faso. It is the first time that Nigeria will reach the final of the men’s football tournament of the African Games since losing the gold medal match to Cameroun inside the National Stadium Complex, Abuja in 2003.
Nigeria won the gold medal of the football event (no women edition then) of the 2nd African Games hosted in Lagos in 1973 and then lost in the final to host nation Algeria in 1978.