Nigeria’s national under-20 team, the Flying Eagles on Friday secured qualification ticket to the 2019 World Youth Championship (WYC) after they wobbled past hosts Niger 1-0 in Niamey.
Kano Pillars midfielder Ibrahim Alhassan scored the game’s only goal from a free kick in the 73rd minute as the young Nigerians wobbled past a visibly older and bigger opposition at the General Seyni Kountché Stadium in Niger’s capital.
Nigeria coach Paul Aigbogun dropped Enyimba’s Maxwell Effiom and IK Start of Norway’s Afeez Aremu to the bench after some unconvincing displays in the last game but that did little to improve the Flying Eagles’ display in front of a capacity crowd in Niamey.
Striker Nazifi Yahaya spurned what could have been an early goal for Nigeria in the opening four minutes as the striker shot straight at Niger goalkeeper Lawali when put through on goal. Both teams ultimately struggled to create good scoring chances on the irregular playing surface but it was Alhassan’s strike that won it for the seven-time champions in the end.
The win ensured that Nigeria finished top of Group A and aside booking a place at the World Youth Championships in Poland in May, the Eagles will also avoid facing the red hot Junior Lions of Senegal in the semi final.
South Africa finished second behind Nigeria after a similar scoreline victory over Burundi in Maradi. Luke Le Roux converted a ninth minute penalty to send the Amajitas to a second consecutive WYC tournament under head coach Thabo Senong.
Both semi final games will be staged on Wednesday at the biggest stadium in Niamey. Nigeria will face the winners of the winner-takes-all encounter between Ghana and Mali in the first game on Wednesday before Senegal face South Africa in the second game.
All four semi-finalists will represent Africa at the 2019 FIFA Under-20 Championship in Poland in May.