The two West African nations lock horns in far away Egypt as the race for the World Cup begins
The stage is set in Egypt for Nigeria and Senegal to play their opening match at the 2023 Africa U20 Cup of Nations, formerly called the African Youth Championships.
Placed in the same Group A as the hosts and minnows Mozambique, both Nigeria and Senegal will know a win could brighten their chances of reaching the knockout rounds of the tournament.
Only the four top-placed teams of the twelve in Egypt will qualify to represent Africa at this year’s FIFA Under-20 World Cup finals in Indonesia from May 20 to June 11.
Senegal arrived in Egypt intending to lift their first U20 Afcon tournament after finishing runners-up three times in 2015, 2017, and 2019.
The Senegalese have been very strong at this level in recent years.
A tough nut to crack, the Young Teranga Lions have not lost any of their last 40 official matches in regulation time. The last team to beat Senegal in open play was Mexico in a 1-0 win in 2017 at the FIFA U20 World Cup.
They are on a five-match winning run which includes a 2-1 victory over Tunisia in a friendly four days ago.
The team’s impressive record and pedigree make them a difficult opponent to face for anyone, any day.
But in the Flying Eagles, Senegal meet arguably the most nightmarish foe possible in African youth football history.
Nigeria are the most successful nation at the Africa U20 Cup of Nations with seven winners’ medals, two silver medals, and three bronze medals.
Only two times in 17 previous appearances at this tournament has Nigeria not made it past the group stage.
After failing to qualify for the last edition won by Ghana, the Flying Eagles appear to be in fine mettle yet again this time.
The Ladan Bosso-tutored side landed in Egypt as the WAFU B regional champions and concluded their preparations for the tourney with an encouraging 6-1 friendly win over Morocco’s Kawkab Athletics Club U23.
A fortnight ago, the Eagles defeated Zambia 4-2 in another warmup game.
They will take some stopping in Egypt.
In three previous meetings between Nigeria and Senegal at this level, the Flying Eagles hold the bragging rights with two wins.
Both games Nigeria won were at the 2015 U20 Afcon hosted by Senegal.
The Eagles chopped the hosts 3-1 during the group stages and carved out a 1-0 win in the final over the same opponents to lift their seventh title.
But the Young Lions had a bit of their pound of flesh when they defeated Nigeria 2-1 in the first knockout round of the 2019 FIFA U20 World Cup.
What are they saying?
Senegal head coach Malick Daff:
“I don’t know anything about my opponents. I’m basing it on the work I’ve done. The most important thing is to establish our strengths, to be able to put them in place in each match, and win.
“We played a lot of friendly matches. Statistically, the team has scored 15 goals and conceded two goals. Our team scores goals and is defensively solid.
“That is to say that there is a balance in this team.”
Former Super Eagles defender Ifeanyi Udeze:
“Thank God they arrived safely. Bosso understands the task, which is to qualify.
“It won’t be easy for the Flying Eagles, and this is the first time that Bosso is sounding so confident, so I hope his team will deliver. This is also the first time I have confidence in Bosso’s team.”
Competition: 2023 Africa U20 Cup of Nations
Stage: Group stage
Match: Senegal U20 vs. Nigeria U20
Venue: Cairo International Stadium
Date: February 19, 2023
Kickoff time: 6 pm (Nigerian time)