France clinch dramatic semi-final berth
© AFP

France have booked their first-ever semi-final appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, seeing off Nigeria 3-2 in Cali after substitute Maduabuchi Ejike scored a last-gasp equaliser to send the match into extra-time.

Nigeria were flying high with four consecutive victories at these finals, but it was France who snatched the one-goal lead after the break through in-form substitute Alexandre Lacazette. The Africans desperately searched for an equaliser to keep their hopes alive, and with a stroke of luck found it through Ejike with just ten seconds left to play in normal time.

France, likely feeling robbed of a 1-0 victory, were searing after the restart and quickly scored through captain Gueida Fofana and Lacazette, tallying a double, before Ejike scored a second for Nigeria to make for a nervy finish.

Les Bleuets had the first real chance on goal when Timothee Kolodziejczak got to the end of a free-kick, flashing a low-header wide.

Ahmed Musa was soon thwarting the French backline, though, as he dribbled into the area from the right wing past Loic Nego, but his proceeding shot was blocked by the defence. While France tried two ambitious attempts through Cedric Bakambu and then Clement Grenier, neither side were able to produce any real danger until the half-hour mark.

Grenier, unable to clear the ball, was pick-pocketed by Olarenwaju Kayode, who passed to Musa on the left. The striker advanced with pace, and lashed a low-drive only to see it denied by goalkeeper Jonathan Ligali. And in a successive chance, Kayode again played creator, serving the ball into Edafe Egbedi who tapped to Musa atop the area. The No7 advanced towards Ligali’s net, but his shot was blocked en route.

France handed the Nigerian’s a warning, however, when Kolodziejczak found Bakambu in the area. Goalkeeper Dami Paul pulled off a spectacular save, denying the No17 with his fingertips to keep things deadlocked headed into the break.

However, it didn’t take long for France to find the net in the second half. In the 49th minute, Grenier did well to split Kenneth Omeruo and Ramon Azeez, finding Lacazette clean through on goal. The No19 made no mistake with a precise low-drive.

The Africans, in an attempt to respond quickly, found Azeez in the area, but the captain was indecisive with his shot and was ultimately denied. France were breaking down the Nigerian defence on the counter, and on 58 minutes Lacazette nearly made it a double on the night, but Paul pulled off a fine save.

Musa then had the Cali crowd on their feet begging for a Nigerian goal. The striker first headed the ball narrowly wide, and a minute later followed with a powerful bending shot that also flew wide of the woodwork. France threatened on the counter, and were nearly through to the semi-finals, but Nigeria had another say in the matter and scored an unlikely injury-time goal to send the match into extra time.

In a last-stitch effort, goalkeeper Paul fired a long-range pass to Uche Nwofor, who nodded it over to Maduabuchi Ejike in the centre of the area. The substitute had just entered the match, and with a stroke of luck headed Nwofor’s pass right over the onrushing Ligali.

The French were unwilling to handover their semi-final ticket, though, and quickly snatched the lead in extra time. Fofana, with a nifty long-range chip, lobbed the ball over Paul into the Nigerian net. Lacazette bagged a brace just a minute later after receiving a fine pass across the face of goal from Kakuta.

Ejike tallied his second on the night in the second period of extra time, unsettling Les Bleuets, but the Nigerians were unable to pull another goal back.