Venue: Stade Leopoldo Sedar Senghor, Dakar
Date: Today (Sun., March 8 2015)
Time: 5:30 PM
Nigeria’s Flying Eagles will begin their quest for a seventh African Youth Championship against determined hosts Senegal today at the Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor in Dakar.
Nigeria have won Africa’s U20 tournament a record six times – 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 2005 and 2011.
Senegal, on the other hand, have only featured in this competition twice, crashing out in the group stage in 1993 and 1995.
Coach Manu Garba, who won his second U17 World Cup two years ago, has been upbeat about his team’s chances.
“We want to qualify for the World Cup in New Zealand as African champions and that means we have to win all our matches in Senegal,” he said.
“We may be without some players (Kelechi Iheanacho, Isaac Success, Wilfred Ndidi, Musa Yahaya), but we believe we have capable replacements for them.”
Also, the Junior Lions under the tutelage of former Teranga Lions handler Joseph Koto are fired up to post a better showing in this tournament in front of their home fans.
Koto has picked nine foreign-based pros on his final squad with skipper Roger Gomis, a defensive midfielder who plays in the French lower league, widely regarded as the heart and soul of the team.
Koto has chopped and changed ‘Les Lionceaux’, but it seems this is paying off handsomely as they won their last two warm-up matches against Zambia and South Africa 1-0.
“Nigeria are not Zambia or South Africa,” warned assistant coach Malick Daf.
“It was crucial we won our warm-up matches because this will boost our confidence.
“But we have not been able to watch videos of the Nigerians, but all the same we want to win our opening game.”
The main objective for the host team is to reach the semi-finals and thus qualify for the FIFA U20 World Cup later in the year in New Zealand.
Nigeria have graduated eight players from the team who landed the 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup with the likes of skipper Musa Muhammed, Taiwo Awoniyi and Akinjide Idowu key players of the Flying Eagles Class of 2015.
Kick-off time is 4.30pm local time, which is 5.30 pm Nigerian time.
Weather conditions are favourable for good football – fairly cold and windy with a high sun – while the pitch is in excellent condition.