The Emmanuel Amuneke-led team took home the prestigious trophy and most of individual awards at the expense of their West African opponent courtesy of two second half quick goals from Victor Osimhen and Funsho Bamgboye.
The defending champions had started the game on a front foot and should have scored in the fourth minute after Malian defender, Chato handled the ball in his box; but Osinachi Ebere’s spot kick was saved by goalkeeper, Samuel Diarra.
The African champions soon grew in confidence and began to threaten their Nigerian opponents, with neither of the teams finding breakthrough in the first half.
The Golden Eaglets started the second half as the dominant side and took the game to the Malians. Nigeria’s improved performance in the second half paid instant dividend when record-goal scorer, Osimhen, broke the deadlock for his 10th goal of the tournament in the 56th minute.
Three minutes later, the Eaglets doubled their lead through Funsho Bamgboye whose left-footed strike left Malian keeper, Diarra rooted to the spot.
After going two goals up, the Eaglets took command of the game and nearly increased the tally but the gritty Malians were not ready to give up way back. Eaglets’ goal-keeper, Udoh had to make three big saves including an important one with three minutes to time in order to preserve the team’s two-goal lead to be crowned champions for the fifth time in the history of FIFA Under-17 World Cup.
It is the first time that the Nigerians are winning the title outside of the Asian continent. Nigeria’s bagged her first ever cadet World Cup trophy after beating West Germany 2-0 in the inaugural edition of the championship in Beijing in 1985. The second title was secured after beating West African rivals, Ghana, 2-1 in 1993 in Tokyo, Japan. The Eaglets picked the third crown after outscoring Mexico on penalties in Seoul, South Korea in 2007 before thrashing the Mexicans 3-0 in the final of the 2013 edition of the Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for the fourth titles.
The successful defence recorded by Nigeria makes her the second country after Brazil to record back-to-back wins in the cadet World Cup. The victorious Eaglets will be hoping for a warm embrace from President Muhammadu Buhari who was the Head of State when Nigeria won the first edition of FIFA U16 World Cup in China.
It was the then General Buhari that christened the Nigeria’s U17 team, the Golden Eaglets after their triumph thirty years ago.
By Olisemeka Obeche