U-23 AFCON: Nigeria beat Mali 3-2
A lacklustre Nigeria U-23 team on Sunday won their first group match of the 2015 CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations with a 3-2 victory over Mali at the Stade de Caroline, Mbour, Senegal.
A brace from Junior Ajayi and a goal from Usman Mohammed gave Nigeria their first three points of the competition in the five-goal thriller. Adama Niane and Souleymane Sissoko scored the goals for Mali.
The Nigerians now lead Group B after Algeria and Egypt, the other two teams in the group, played out a 1-1 draw. Mali sit bottom of the group after Sunday’s defeat.
Nigeria will play their next match on Wednesday against Egypt before playing Algeria in their final group match. The top three teams at the competition, which will end on December 12, will represent Africa at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Mali started the stronger side as they outplayed Nigeria in the opening exchanges of the match with Nigeria struggling to find their foot in the game. Mali carved out the better chances in front of goal and could have gone ahead within the first minute, but Adama Traore’s effort came off the crossbar and back into play.
Nigeria soaked the pressure, before scoring in the 16th minute when Tunisia-based Ajayi back-heeled home after a cross from Stanley Dimgba.
Mali continued to chase the game but Nigeria doubled their lead after 34 minutes, when Mohammed turned in a loose ball from inside the box after a great cut-back by Sincere Seth.
The Malians forced a save out of Nigeria’s goalkeeper, Emmanuel Daniel, a minute later when he blocked a goal-bound shot from Traore but Ajayi made it 3-0 after Mali goalkeeper Diarra failed to hold a powerful shot fired by skipper Azubuike Okechukwu from the edge of the box.
The Malians dominated the second half and came back into the game in the 54th minute when Niane scored from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Oghenekaro Etebo and in the 65th minute when Sissoko capitalised on a defensive error to score the second.
Mali pressed for the third but Nigeria held on for the three points.
Before the match started, Nigeria coach Samson Siasia, expressed happiness at the release of his mother, Mrs. Ogere Siasia who was kidnapped two weeks ago in their village in Bayelsa State.
He told the Nigeria Football Federation website, “Words can’t express how I feel, all I want to say here is thank you to all Nigerians especially the NFF who stood by myself and my family in our trying times, it has not been easy but by his grace we have overcome. For me all I can say now is, based on the support shown me and my family; all I can do to repay Nigerians is to go out there and pick an Olympic ticket for the country.”
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