The Golden Eaglets defeated their Malian counterparts in an African U-17 Championship qualifier 2-0 at the UJ Esuene in Calabar yesterday.It is the first leg of the final round qualifier of the African cadet soccer fiesta, with the second leg coming up a fortnight later in Bamako, Mali.
But the Nigerians, supersport.com learnt, played the match under protest that the Malians looked too old for Eaglets.The Eaglets for the first time found a tough opponent in the Malians who kept possession well.
The hosts found it difficult to settle down in the early periods of the match as the Malians used their physique to their advantage.Mali resorted to aerial balls and for the first time in their qualifying campaign, Eaglets goalkeeper, Adeyinka Adewale was made to work.
But it was the impressive Wilfred Ndidi who put Nigeria in front on 24 minutes with a headed goal from a corner kick.Kelechi Iheanacho then came close to making it two for Nigeria just past the half hour mark but his attempt fizzled wide.
In the restart, Bernard Bulbwa was guilty of missing twice from goalscoring positions in quick succession as Nigeria continued to press for a second goal.
The Nigerians finally cracked open Mali's defence with seven minutes left in the business end of the game for their second goal through Alhassan Ibrahim who benefited from a rebound after good work from Success Isaac.
It was the first time that the Nigerians will score less than three goals in a match in the African U-17 qualifier after defeating Guinea 7-0 and Niger Republic 10-1, both on aggregate, in previous rounds.
Mali will play host to Nigeria in Bamako in a fortnight with the winners of the two-legged game qualifying for the championship in Morocco next year.