By Victor Okoye
Mali on Wednesday defeated Nigeria 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw after extra time in their semi-final match at the 2019 Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Niger Republic.
The result meant that the Flying Eagles’ bid for a record eighth Under-20 AFCON title would have to wait for now.
The match played at the Stade General Seyni Kountche in Niamey saw El Bilal Toure scoring the decisive spot-kick after Aniekeme Okon missed his kick for Nigeria.
The victory ensured that the Malians reached the final for the first time in the history of the tournament.
The win for Junior Mena of Mali avenged their loss to the Flying Eagles, also on penalty kicks, at the U-20 WAFU Cup tournament in Lome, Togo in December.
Paul Aigbogun’s side started the encounter with more purpose forcing the Malians into defending in the opening stages of the game.
Nasifi Yahaya crashed the crossbar in the sixth minute after latching on to a neat pass from the edge of the penalty box.
Koita Youssouf also made a brilliant save to deny Ibrahim Abubakar eight minutes later.
Mali had a glorious chance to break the deadlock three minutes into the second half, but Olawale Oremade came off his line hurriedly to deny Sekou Keita.
With no goal scored after an hour, Aigbogun brought on Paschal Durugbor for Yahaya and Maxwell Effiom for Ibrahim Abubakar but the pair could only do little.
Ibrahim Alhassan tried his luck from distance in the 70th minute but his shot went inches wide.
Mamadou Traore scored the opener for Mali in the 78th minute of the encounter, his second of the tournament.
Substitute Durugbor drew Nigeria level with five minutes left to play to send the match into extra time.
With both sides unable to score at the end of the 30-minute extra time period, the match went into the dreaded lottery of the penalty shootout.
During the shootout, Ikuowen Udoh, Mohammed Jamil, Effiong Maxwell all converted their kicks for the Flying Eagles, while Valentine Ozornwafor and Aniekeme Okon missed theirs.
For Mali, Lassana N’Diaye, Hassan Traore, Abdoulaye Diaby and El Bilal Toure all scored, while Boubacar Traore missed.
The seven-time winners of the Under-20 AFCON will now face South Africa, 0-1 losers to Senegal in the second semi-final clash, in the Third/Fourth-Place match on Saturday in Niamey.(NAN)