Nigeria’s chances of qualifying for the African Under-17 Championship for the first time since 2007 got a boost on Sunday following a 2-0 win over a resilient Junior Eagles of Mali at the U.J Esuene Sports Stadium in Calabar.
The match was watched by a fairly large crowd including His Excellency Barrister Efiok Cohbam, the Deputy Governor of Cross River State who represented Governor Liyel Imoke as the special guest of honour as well as top Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) officials led by President Aminu Maigari.
This was obviously Eaglets’ toughest match so far in the campaign but the Nigerian youngsters could have scored more goals if not for some glaring misses particularly in the second half of the keenly contested match.
But the two goals in either half of the match by Defender Wilfred Ndidi in the 23rd minute and Alhassan Ibrahim in the 82nd minute secured victory over a strong Malian team.
“Obviously, you can all see that they are bigger than our boys but that is not our problem because we know that size doesn’t play football,” coach Manu Garba said after the match. “We have to praise these boys for being able to play and score two goals against Mali and I’m confident we would secure the needed result in Bamako to qualify for the tournament in Morocco.”
The Golden Eaglets according to Garba would be ready to confront the Malians in Bamako in a fortnight not withstanding the size of the opposition.
“If we had taken some of those chances we missed, we would have scored more goals but I’m confident we can beat them in Bamako,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Golden Eaglets would observe a one-day break on Monday and resume preparations for the return leg in Bamako in two weeks time on Tuesday.