It was, perhaps, the worst game played by any Nigerian national U-20 team, but the Flying Eagles managed to beat Uganda 1-0 to qualify for the semifinals of the ongoing African U-20 Nations Cup in Egypt. The victory also gave Nigeria a ticket to Indonesia 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which will hold later this year.
On paper, Nigeria was expected to overrun the Ugandans, who, by all standard, ranked lower than the Flying Eagles in world football. But pundits, who had followed this competition from the outset were wary about the Hippos simply because they play a well-coordinated brand of the game.
The Ugandans’ undoing was that they initially gave Nigeria more respect than they deserved and paid dearly for it when an unfortunate own goal in the 41st minute by Ibrahim Juma gave the Flying Eagles the goal, which turned out to be the decider.
The Flying Eagles, who resorted to unwieldy long balls in the face of a tactically superior opponent, came close to opening scores through Ibrahim Muhammad in the third minute, but his fierce shot was deflected and eventually cleared.
It was Uganda’s turn to rue a missed opportunity in the eight minute, when Ivan Irinimbabazi saw his powerful header from a corner kick saved by Nigeria’s goalkeeper, Chijioke Aniagboso, who was the Flying Eagles’ man of the game.
The game was deteriorating in style and tactics when Juma turned in the goal from, which ricocheted off the post and deflected off his knee.
The second half saw an improved Flying Eagles, who took the game to the East Africans, but as it was in the first half, their undoing was the inability to create clear chances when they got to the Ugandans box.
Three minutes into the second half, Muhammad missed a gilt-edged chance to double the lead after getting past two markers, but the East Africans managed to clear their lines.
With the win, Nigeria have now joined Senegal in the semifinals of the U-20 AFCON and also the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The Senegalese defeated the Benin Republic by a similar score line earlier in the day.