Nigeria’s chances of qualifying for the African Under-17 Championship for the first time since 2007 got a boost on Sunday following a 2-0 win over a resilient Junior Eagles of Mali at the U.J Esuene Sports Stadium in Calabar.
The match was watched by a fairly large crowd including Barrister Efiok Cohbam, the Deputy Governor of Cross River State, who represented Governor Liyel Imoke, as the special guest of honour as well as top Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) officials led by President Aminu Maigari.
This was obviously Eaglets’ toughest match so far in the campaign but the Nigerian youngsters could have scored more goals if not for some glaring misses particularly in the second half of the keenly contested match.
But the two goals in either half of the match by defender Wilfred Ndidi in the 23rd minute and Alhassan Ibrahim in the 82nd minute secured victory over a strong Malian team.
“Obviously, you can all see that they are bigger than our boys but that is not our problem because we know that size doesn’t play football,” coach Manu Garba (MFR) said after the match.
“We have to praise these boys for being able to play and score two goals against Mali and I’m confident we would secure the needed result in Bamako to qualify for the tournament in Morocco.”
The Golden Eaglets according to Garba would be ready to confront the Malians in Bamako in a fortnight not withstanding the size of the opposition.
Meanwhile, the Golden Eaglets will observe a one-day break on Monday and resume preparations for the return leg in Bamako in two weeks time on Tuesday.
And in a related development, Golden Eaglets officials and players on Sunday hailed the unalloyed support of Governor Liyel Imoke and the people of Cross River after recording their third successive home win of the 2013 Under-17 Qualifiers at the U.J Esuene Sports Stadium in Calabar.
The scenes at the U. J Esuene stadium actually was turned to a carnival of some sort as the Golden Eaglets unfurled three big banners with different messages in appreciation of the state’s government support to the team.
One of the messages was directed to the team's number one fan Senator Imoke: ‘Thank You So Much Sir! The Executive Governor of Cross River State.'
Apart from providing financial support and comfort to the team, Governor Imoke graced all the team's three matches where they scored a remarkable 14 goals without conceding any.
The other two banners were dedicated to Cross Riverians for coming out in their throngs to support the team even under inclement weather.
Incidentally earlier before the team's departure for the game, Alhaji Aminu Maigari, the NFF President had described Governor Imoke as the best thing to have happened to Nigerian football.
Maigari, who visited the player Sunday morning, noted that the Governor's remarkable support to the team despite the state’s lean resources should be commended.