Nigeria survived a late scare from Mali with a 3-2 win in their Group B clash on Sunday at the Caroline Faye Stadium, Mbour.
A three goal lead at half time put Nigeria on course for victory only for a spirited second-half display by the Malians saw them reduce the deficit with two quick goals with the equaliser never to be.
Junior Ajayi opened the score in the 16th minute by finishing off an assist from Sopuruchi Augustine to give the Nigeria a lead. In the 33rd minute, Muhammed Usman doubled the lead connecting home with a cross from a Sincere Seth before Ajayi completed his brace on the stroke of half-time with a simple tap-in after Mali keeper Djigui Diarra failed to make a thorough grib from a Azubuike Okechukwu shot.
At the start of the second-half, Nigeria led by three goals but it was the Malians were the better side with an improved performance from defence to attack. In 54th minute, striker Adama Niane steered the Malian fight-back by converting a penalty, shooting beyond Nigerian Keeper Emmanuel Daniel. Substitute Abdoulaye Diarra scored the second for Mali in 65th minute with a superb finish from close range.
‘Les Aiglons’ piled pressure in search of the equalizer but near misses from Niane and Diarra denied them as Nigeria hung on to the narrowest of victories.
Nigeria will next play Egypt on Wednesday whilst Mali comes up against Algeria.
Cheick Oumar Kone (Head Coach, Mali)
“We started very badly, but in the second half we played collectively. We lifted up our game and scored twice. We could have equalized but we failed to convert some of the chances. Such is football; you get punished if you fail to take your chances. Our next game against Algeria will be equally difficult. They are beatable but we have to avoid mistakes like we did today”.
Samson Siasia (Head Coach, Nigeria)
“It was a difficult match. We played very well in the beginning and scored three goals. The defenders made two mistakes which cost us, and they (Mali) scored twice. The defenders panicked and they (Mali) almost equalized. I guess we were lucky to escape”.