Mali Under-20s defeated Nigeria's Under-20s 1-0 in the opening Group B fixture of the African Youth Championship inside a near empty Stade Ahmed Zabana in Oran on Sunday evening.
A first half goal from FC Nantes danger man Niane Adama was all the Moussa Keita-tutored side needed to avenge their loss to the Flying Eagles at the last edition.
The Flying Eagles, who wore all green outfit set the ball rolling with Bamlack Tessema from Ethiopia directing proceedings from the centre. As expected, the match started on a competitive note as both sides challenged for every ball to win possession but it was the Malians who looked livelier as Keita Tiekoro threatened the Flying Eagles defence line while Konte Modibo and Diara Boubaca held sway in midfield.
The hard tackling Malians kept pressuring the Nigerian rear till they got a corner kick won by Diallo Samba. Tiekoro Keita skillfully placed the resulting kick in the middle of the Nigeria defence line that stood watching as Niane got the curtain raiser on 12 minutes.
Nigeria tried to force their way back into the encounter on restart, but Kayode Olarenwaju’s effort was cleared by the Malian backline marshalled by Keita Abdoulaye.
In the 27th minute, Kayode Olarenwaju made a mince meat of the opponent’s defence but his wayward strike was saved by goalie, Yirango Ali, the skipper of his side. Nigeria continued to pile the pressure on their opponents but could not get the much needed equalizer.
Chidi Osuchukwu’s shot went miles away from the wood work as Pyagbara Dumte’s footwork could not unlock the dogged Malian defence. Flying Eagles skipper, Abduljeleel Ajagun then picked out Samba, who headed over, before Olarenwaju blasted a free kick over the bar from 24 yards as Moussa Keita’s side look to make their early pressure count.
Traore could have doubled the lead on the 27th minute mark having outclassed Shehu Abdulahi and on rushing Amaefule Chizoba, only for him to shoot wide.
Coach John Obuh made his first change in the 30th minute when he pulled out Umar Aminu, whose impact was not felt, for Edafe Egbedi whose overzealousness upfront did not help the Flying Eagles cause.
Osuchukwu and Shehu Abdulahi combined well with Olarenwaju who had earlier seen his strike ruled for an offside. The Ansfed of Turkey player however got into Referee Bamlack’s book for simulation in the 38th minute.
The Eaglets of Mali began to grow more in confidence and were almost rewarded with the second goal but Mariko Adama’s header was easily dealt with by Nigerian goalie, Usman Jonah who was given the nod ahead of Okani Samuel.
On restart of the second half, the Flying Eagles mounted more pressure on the Eaglets’ backline but poor marksmanship was their bane as Kayode Olarenwaju and Ajagun blew away clear cut chances to put their side back on level terms.
In the 52nd minute, Pyagbara saw his shot saved by the goalie after a receiving a good cross from ever running Osuchukwu. Even at the introduction of Alhaji Gero, the defending champions could not find the back of their opponents net. Keita Ousmane and Cisse Mahamane who stars for Djoliba FC of Mali proved too much for the Nigerian attack.
At the introduction of Keita Famouss into the Malian midfield, they bounced back to life as they attempted to catch their Nigerian opponents on the counter. Nigeria did well to forge out a goal scoring opportunity as the game drew to a close, but were denied by some excellent defending as the Obuh boys continued their goal search.
Aliyu Mohammed joined the attack line but no goals could go in. Egbedi and Olarenwaju were the main culprits as they tried to show some skills instead of scoring begging chances. Niane almost doubled his goal after Okorie Ikechukwu gave him a wrong pass. Few minutes later, Alhaji Gero failed to convert a one on one chance as they went on to lose the game.
The Flying Eagles take on Congo DR in their next game.