The drumbeats of war are raging as the Flying Eagles confront hosts Niger Republic in a final group A match of the 15th Total U-20 Africa Cup of Nations, with a semi final ticket and World Cup qualification the reward for the victorious team.
Nigeria top the group with four points, two more than Niger and a draw will take their points tally to five, which will be enough to see them cross the tape and qualify for Poland 2019 but despite their rich history in the competition, their manager, Paul Osahon Aigbogun is not counting his chicks yet until they hatch.
Speaking during the pre-match conference yesterday, the former Enyimba and Warri Wolves coach, rated the Nigerien side high, warning his charges not to take their feet off the gas until the job of qualification is achieved.
Aigbogun described today’s deciding encounter as ”a normal game that we could not avoid. One thing we know is that Niger are a good team. It was very difficult against South Africa despite playing well but we will work hard and fight to win against Niger”.
Countering back, Niger coach, Ismaila Tiemoko, said it was not impossible to defeat the highly-rated Nigerian side.
”We will be entitled to a fair game and very open as it is the third match that is synonymous with qualification or elimination. We will make every effort to beat Nigeria to snatch the qualification”, said Tiemoko.
The Flying Eagles have an extra motivation to put on their best today, as officials confirmed that Super Eagles’ Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr would arrive in Niamey in time to watch the clash with Niger. Rohr promised to include one or two of the Flying Eagles in the senior team’s squad for the 2019 AFCON qualifier against Seychelles and the prestige friendly against Egypt, both coming up next month.
As it is, all four of Africa’s flagbearers at this summer’s FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland would be known today. Senegal, who play Burkina Faso in Maradi on Saturday, have already picked a ticket while the Burkina are eliminated after two losses in as many matches.
Nigeria square up against Niger Republic at the same time as South Africa would be battling Burundi in Maradi. The Nigeria/Niger Republic encounter would give way to the Group B clash between Ghana and Mali. Both have three points each. These three matches will produce the remaining three tickets to Poland.