By Albert Akota
The Golden Eaglets failed to book their ticket for the Final Match of
the WAFU B Tournament on Friday following a 3-1 penalty shoot-out loss to Republic of Benin-after both neighbours had played out a pulsating 1-1 draw.
Golden Eaglets’ second-half substitute, Suleiman Abdullahi cancelled Benin’s Adaomu Nassiru early minute lead and a winner did not emerge in regulation and extra time.
Golden Eaglets started the game without injured midfielder Kingsley Michael who was replaced by Dayo Femi. But as early as the second minute, Femi was punished for ball-watching when fleet-footed Nassiru ghosted past him to score the opening goal of the match.
Few minutes later, it was the turn of the Eaglets on the other end when Joshua Auta nearly grabbed the equaliser but his shot was cuddled by the Benin’s goalkeeper.
The Nigerians were undeterred despite good possession of the ball by the Beninois and about a quarter of an hour, Orji Okonkwo latched on to a through pass from Kehinde Ayinde.
The languid striker out-paced two defenders and shot straight into the net but his joy of grabbing an equalizer was short-lived by Nigerien referee, Lalidia Souleymane who ruled otherwise.
Jack Ipalibo also went close in the 37th minute when he drove through the pack but saw his pile driver missing the target. Towards the end of the first half, it was the Nigerians who were on the receiving end and were twice saved by the bar in the 42nd and 4th minute.
In the second half, Coach Emmanuel Amuneke brought in Suleiman Abdullahi for Dayo and his inclusion brought some order to the Nigerian midfield.
The Golden Eaglets’ skipper, Kelechi Nwakali was hacked down in the box in the 63rd minute but referee Souleymane did not call for any infringement. But Abdullahi finally got the equalizer for the Eaglets in the 68th minute when he scrambled the ball into the net off a corner kick.
The match could not produce a winner even after 30 minutes of extra-time and the Beninois triumphed in the ensuing penalty shootout; the Golden Eaglets would now face the loser of the second semi-final match between Mali and hosts, Togo.