Nigeria reached the semi finals of the WAFU U17 Cup Tournament ongoing in Lome, Togo on Tuesday evening after Group B pacesetters Cote d’Ivoire hammered the Black Starlets of Ghana 3-1 at the city’s Stade Municipal.
Five-time WAFU world champions Nigeria, who lost by the odd goal to the Ivorians on the opening day of the competition and were forced to a 1-1 draw by the Starlets at the weekend, needed a favour from the Ivorians to progress to the knockout stage. And the Ivorians obliged.
The Baby Elephants raced into the lead after only nine minutes and consolidated at 2-0 as the match wore on. But the Starlets, themselves two-time champions of the world, pegged back their neighbours to leave Nigeria’s chances on the wire.
The Eaglets and their Ghanaian counterparts had both scored through penalty kicks on Saturday. It was the time for the Ivorians to benefit, as they netted from six yards with 20 minutes to go to make it a commanding 3-1 win.
Nigeria will now take on Burkina Faso, another youth football powerhouse, in the semi finals slated for Friday at Togo’s main stadium, Stade Kegue.
Hosts Togo were thrown out of the tournament on Sunday after two of their players failed the mandatory MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tests conducted by the tournament’s medical team.
With Togo’s results in the tournament annulled, Burkina Faso soared to the top of Group A, and will be battling the Eaglets at the Stade Kegue in the first semi finals from 5pm Togo time (6pm Nigeria time) on Friday. Same night, Group B winners Cote d’Ivoire will take on Niger Republic as from 8pm Togo time (9pm Nigeria time).
The winners of the WAFU semi finals will battle for the diadem on Wednesday next week at the Stade Kegue, and also qualify for the CAF U17 Cup of Nations billed for 13th-31st March in Morocco.
Meanwhile, former coach of the team, John Obuh, has urged the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to restore the payment of bonus and allowance of all underage national teams as part of motivation.
The NFF sometime last year stopped the payment of bonus and allowances to all Under age teams including Golden Eaglets, Flying Eagles and the Nigerian U-23 squad the Dream Team.
Reacting to the poor performance of Flying and Golden Eaglets in their separate West African Football Union (WAFU) Cup competitions in Benin Republic and Togo respectively, Obuh said restoring payment of match bonus and allowance will enhance their confidence and commitment as some of the players are bread winners in their family.
“In fact, to be honest with you, having gone through such stages, these players, if you see what they do with the bonus and allowances they receive. You will find out that in Nigeria, there are so much load on the shoulders of any national team player irrespective of their ages.
“At their tender age, they have become the bread winners of their families, even if they’re the third or fourth child, they have automatically become the bread winner of the family,” he said.