By Spy Uganda
Nigeria’s U-20 national team will, on Thursday, lock horns with their Ugandan counterparts in the quarter-finals of the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
There is so much at stake in this encounter, the first meeting between these two teams at this level.
The winner of the match will not only progress to the semifinals of the competition, but they will also secure their spot at the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia later in July.
With that much to fight for, a thrilling clash is expected between the Flying Eagles and the Hippos at the Suez Canal Stadium in Ismailia on Thursday.
Uganda will head into this quarter-final match-up high on confidence after finishing top of Group A thanks to two draws against Congo and Sudan, a win over the Central African Republic, and the lack of drawn lots.
It is thrilling to note that Uganda only made their debut appearance at the U-20 AFCON in the last edition, but they shocked all, including themselves, as they surmounted all obstacles to reach the final. And even then, it took a resilient Ghana side to condemn them to a runners-up finish.
Their current U-20 squad looks even more talented than that 2021 team, and they have lost only one competitive game since 2022.
And adding Nigeria to their list of conquered opponents will add no small credence to their burgeoning reputation.
But the Flying Eagles are not your regular mediocre foes. Nigeria are the most successful team in the history of the U-20 AFCON, with seven titles.
In their 17 appearances at the continental championship, only on two occasions did the Flying Eagles fail to make it to the semifinal of the competition.
Nigeria missed the 2021 edition but were champions as recently as 2015 when Musa Muhammed’s tournament-high four goals and Taiwo Awoniyi’s three goals lifted them to a podium finish.
Ladan Bosso’s boys may not be as gifted as that victorious team led by veteran coach Manu Garba. Still, they have shown resilience and battle-readiness in bouncing back from an early defeat to Senegal to make it past the group stage with wins over hosts Egypt and Mozambique.
And according to CAF, they also showed good sportsmanship to be worthy winners of the Group Stage Fair Play award.
The clash in Ismailia will be the first faceoff between Uganda and Nigeria at the U-20 level.
The two nations are, however, familiar opponents at the senior level, where the East Africans retain the bragging rights.
In eight meetings between the two, the Cranes have recorded four victories while the Super Eagles have just two wins, with the two other encounters ending in draws.
Competition: U-20 CAF Africa Cup of Nations
Match: Uganda vs. Nigeria
Venue: Suez Canal Stadium, Ismailia
Date: Thursday, 2 March 2023
Kickoff time: 6 pm (Nigerian time)