Cote d’Ivoire on Saturday evening at the Grande Stade de Marrakech won their first ever African U17 Championship title after defeating Nigeria 5-4 on penalties as the game ended 1-1.
As expected, the match was explosive as it brought out the best of both teams who once met at the group stage. As usual, the Garba Manu led boys dominated proceedings dictating the pace in terms of possession. They were eventually rewarded in the 8th minute when Izu Omego scored from a rebound from the Ivorian goalkeeper’s save off Nwakili’s corner kick.
The Ivoirians fought back like a wounded animal, forcing the Nigerian goalie Akinyemi to make brilliant saves in quick succession. Bernard Bulwa could have doubled the lead for Nigeria in the 14th minute, but he was undone by wayward finishing after having only the goalkeeper to beat.
Bile Bedia was however the saviour for the Baby Elephants as he flicked the ball into Nigeria’s net after receiving a long cross from Junior Landry. The Nigeria goal keeper was off his mark, so stood no chance to stop the ball.
This goal brought out the attacking instinct of the Ivoirians who bombarded the Nigerian goal area but thanks to Omego and Mohammed who were ever present to check the excesses of the Elephants.
On resumption of the second half, both teams searched for more goals but could not get any. Kelechi Iheanacho was the culprit of the night as he blew away begging chances. In the 73rd minute, Omego who had given Nigeria the lead was sent off by the Malian centre referee, Mohamadou Keita for an unsporting behaviour. He chose to elbow an Ivorian attacker than make good use of the ball.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, Garba Manu’s boys held their nerves and still made some attacking moves to outwit the hard tackling Elephants. Even with the introduction of Ezeh into the Nigerian fold, the story remained unchanged.
The game shifted to kicks from the penalty spot after the match had ended one goal apiece. All the players scored their kicks except Nwakali who shot tamely into the waiting hands of goalkeeper, Aboubakar Diabagate.
It will be recalled that Nigeria has never defeated Cote d’ivoire at this level of the game, as the Ibrahim Kamara led side will now go to the Fifa U17 World Cup in October as Nigeria’s best team.
Tunisia won the third place match after defeating Morocco via penalties.