Nigeria's Flying Eagles will continue their chase for continental success when they battle the Junior Eagles of Mali in a semi-final match of the ongoing 2019 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations at the Stade General Seyni Kountche in Niamey, today.
The seven-time African champions won the Group A with seven points, defeating Burundi and Host Niger and played goalless draw with South Africa, while Mali finished second in Group B with six points after victories over Burkina Faso and Ghana, and defeat by Senegal.
Speaking ahead of the match, Coach Paul Aigbogun revealed that, having met the first target of a FIFA World Cup ticket, his boys will play the remaining matches without any pressure and would turn out to be much better.
"We set the World Cup ticket as our first target for the championship. We have that now, so we are relaxed to go in there and give our best for the second target of winning the trophy while playing without tension or stiffness."
Both teams know a little of each other. At the WAFU U20 Cup Tournament in Lome, Togo in December 2018, Mali led by a lone goal in one of the semi-final matches until the 82nd minute, before defender Valentine Ozornwafor brought Nigeria level, and the Flying Eagles went ahead to win on penalty shoot -out.
Super Eagles' Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr, who is with Nigerian young lads, told thenff.com: "It is going to be an interesting game because the Malians are difficult to play. They are strong and run a lot. But Nigeria I see Nigeria throwing everything into the fray and doing everything to curtail the Malians by playing a strong game and showing the passion to reach the final."
The second semi-final, also set for the Stade General Seyni Kountche, will see Group B winners Senegal tackle South Africa.
The Lionceau du Teranga won all their matches in the group phase, scooping the maximum nine points, and would reach their third consecutive final of the Africa U20 Cup of Nations if they defeat the Amajita. They were in the final of the 2015 championship that they hosted, losing to Nigeria, and also lost in the final of the 2017 competition to host nation Zambia.
Incidentally, South Africa was also the semi-final victims of Senegal in the 2017 edition in Zambia.
Meanwhile, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has approved a request by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for the Flying Eagles to wear black armbands in their semi-final tie with Mali in honour of departed former NFF Secretary-General and Member of Board, Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi.