WAFU Cup: How Niger put Nigeria’s Flying Eagles on the brink of early elimination

Nigeria’s U-20 national team, the Flying Eagles, had their wings clipped in their first game at the WAFU U20 Cup in neighbouring Lome, the Togo capital, with a disappointing goalless draw against the Junior Mena of Niger Republic. The Flying Eagles played without fluidity in the Group B match at the Stade Municipal on Sunday.

Nigeria were hoping to start the tourney on a sound footing, but they could not capitalize on long spells of possession especially in the second half. The Nigerien side had shocked the Black Satellites of Ghana 1-0 in the opening match of Group B on Friday to send warning signals to the Flying Eagles who are seven–time African champions.

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Aniekeme Okon pulled the strings in midfield while Wasiu Alalade was deployed as a striker. However, Alalade couldn’t reproduce the form that saw him become the show master for Nigeria at the U20 Cup of Nations qualifiers. The intensity of the match grew in the second half, but several rash challenges forced the game to be continually stopped.

Meanwhile, host nation, Togo, competes in Group A which also has Burkina Faso, Senegal and Mali. In Thursday’s opening matches, hosts Togo lost 0-1 to Mali and Senegal defeated Burkina Faso 2-0. Group B, though, comprises just three teams competing for places in the semi-finals following the withdrawal of Benin Republic ahead of the WAFU Cup. As a result, the Flying Eagles will have to wait until Wednesday for their next match, which is a potentially explosive encounter against arch rival, Ghana.

With Ghana desperately needing a win to make it through, the Flying Eagles must go all out also as defeat on Wednesday would end Nigeria’s campaign in Togo prematurely. Can Nigeria avoid such embarrassment?