Mali beat Nigeria to reach final

Mali’s goalkeeper, Koita Youssouf leaps to catch the ball during the African U-20 Nations Cup semifinal game against Nigeria…yesterday. PHOTO: CAF

Mali had their pound of flesh yesterday at the Seyni Kountche Stadium, Niamey when they defeated Nigeria to qualify for the final of the on-going African U-20 Nations Cup. Nigeria in December defeated Mali through a penalty shoot out to get to the final of the WAFU U-20 Championship. As was the case yesterday, in that encounter last year, Mali led by a lone goal until the 82nd minute, before defender Valentine Ozornwafor brought Nigeria level, and the Flying Eagles went ahead to win on penalty shoot -out.

Yesterday, Mamadou Traore put Mali ahead in the 78th minute, while substitute Pascal Onyekachi restored parity for the Flying Eagles.

There were no clear–cut opportunities in the extra time of 30 minutes and so the game went into the penalty lottery.

But this time, the penalty luck swung to Mali’s favour, as Aniekeme Okon blasted his effort against the crossbar and El Bilal Toure converted his to send the Malians into the final.

Although Nigeria had the better of possession, the Flying Eagles always seemed lost in Mali’s half of the pitch, a malaise that had dogged their game from the beginning of the competition.

By winning Group A of the competition, Nigeria had already qualified for the U-20 World Cup, but they wanted to end the competition as African champions. However, their marksmanship could not match their ambition as they frittered away the few chances that came their way.

In the penalty shoot out that decided the game, 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 now play for the bronze medal against either Senegal or South Africa on Saturday, while Mali will play in Sunday’s final.

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