Nigeria battles Mali as WAFU Cup group stage begins
Nigeria will continue its quest to win the resuscitated WAFU Cup trophy when it takes on Mali in their first group stage match of the competition.
Nigeria defeated Sierra Leone 2-0, while Mali beat Madagascar 3-1 to qualify for this stage of competition, which is in a round robin format.
Cote d’Ivoire and Benin Republic were the last two teams to qualify for the group stage of the 2017 WAFU Cup of Nations holding in Ghana.
The Ivoirians progressed in the West African regional championship with a penalty shoot-out win over Togo after the goalless draw on Tuesday, just as
Benin beat Cape Verde 2-0 in the final qualifier.
The two winners join Senegal and Niger in Group B of the tournament, while hosts Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea and Mali will contest the other pool.
Nigerian coach, Salisu Yusuf, who said he is using the WAFU Cup to prepare for next year’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) billed for Kenya, believes his wards have the quality to beat Mali before the crunch clash with Ghana on Monday.
Speaking ahead of the game, Yusuf said his wards were getting into their strides since arriving in Ghana, adding that the 2-0 defeat of Sierra Leone has given them the platform to surge towards the trophy.
“We started preparations late for this championship due to the World Cup qualifier against Cameroun, but we are now getting to the level we desire.
“We were slow in getting off the blocks in the first game, but we are now ready for competition. Fortunately, we have the bulk of the stars that played against Benin Republic in the CHAN qualifier and so blending has not been a problem,” he said.
A total of 16 teams began the tournament as opposed to the four that took part in the 2015 edition in Senegal.
As the event is not on the international match calendar, teams are unable to insist on the release of players by clubs.
The result is that many of the sides fielded teams similar to those they use in qualifying for the Africa Nations Championship, the tournament for locally-based players only.
However, Cape Verde managed to include several players based in Portugal in their squad, while Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Niger brought as many of the senior national team players as they were able to.
In the other Group A game, Ghana will meet Guinea with the top two nations from the groups progressing to the semifinals with the final set for September 24.