Niger defied the odds by stunning hosts Benin 1-0 in the opening match of the WAFU ‘B’ U-20 Championship at the Stade De Gaulles in Porto Novo on Saturday.
A low piledriver from talented midfielder Abdoulaye Ibrahim Litnine was the only goal of the game with the hosts turning in a blunt showing to help their opponents to the victory.
Following a recent oomph in domestic football, Benin were highly tipped to win the match but their poor finishing particularly in the second-half killed their dreams in the Group A match.
They dominated the first half, but despite having the majority of the ball, failed to test Abasse Issaka in the Niger goal. A glancing header from Mariano Ahouangbo was the only real chance for the Benin side in the opening 30 minutes.
The Young Menas were tactical in their approach and hit the home side on the break as the coach’s game plan almost worked perfectly in the first period, with breakaway efforts from midfielder Souleymane Shina and Sama Moussa narrowly going wide.
Benin’s best chance of the first-half came on 36 minutes when Tadjou Sakibou saw his powerful hit flying above the goalpost.
Niger punished their opponents for their profligacy moments later with a well-worked ball from a free-kick.
They had their breakthrough as a low pass from a free-kick evaded the entire Benin backline, with Litnine on hand to fire home from the edge of the box.
The home side came out with purpose in the second half, and could have taken the lead through Saliou Allabani’s header, but his glancing effort drifted just wide.
Defender Charlemagne Azongnitode squandered a chance to level the game with a close-range header that looped high and wide from five yards.
But apart from that, and substitute Fabrice Hounkpè’s late header being ruled out for a push, that was about it for the hosts.
Meanwhile in the group’s other game on Saturday, Burkina Faso rallied from a goal down to hold Togo to a 1-1 draw at the same venue.
The two sides played an entertaining game but failed to score more goals leaving them with no option than to pick up points in their subsequent group matches.
But it was the Togolese who broke the deadlock in the first-half when Derman Karim converted a penalty after Thibault Klidje was brought down in the box.
However, the Burkinabes rallied strongly in the second half with Fiacre Botue grabbing the equalizer in the 64th minute.
Benin will face Togo on Tuesday for the second matchday in Group A while Burkina Faso takes on Niger.
The competition continues on Sunday when Ivory Coast play Nigeria in the three-team Group B that also involves Ghana.
The WAFU B U20 championship ends on 20 December with the two finalists qualifying for the CAF U20 African Nations Cup.