A solitary first half goal by Akwa United FC player, Gabriel Okechukwu, gave Nigeria’s Home-based Eagles victory over hard-fighting Sudan last night in the second semi final of the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN).
Nigeria is to play host country Morocco who earlier in the day defeated Libya 3-1 in final of the championship on Sunday in Casablanca.
The clash between Nigeria and Sudan produced so much tension that both teams ended the game with ten men each.
Before kick-off, Coach Salisu Yusuf had to rue his inability to call upon first-team players Emeka Atuloma, Sunday Faleye and Emeka Ogbuh – all due to injury. And 10 minutes into the game inside the Grand Stade Marrakech, goalkeeper and skipper (and big inspiration) Ikechukwu Ezenwa was stretchered out injured.
Kalu Orji Okogbue, who himself had to pass a late fitness test to be eligible for the encounter, took over the captain’s band and controlled Nigeria’s resistance from behind, while also launching the salvo that Anthony Okpotu knocked down for Gabriel Okechukwu to score the only goal of the game in the 16th minute.
Okechukwu, who incidentally similarly scored the winner against Angola in the quarter final in Tangier last Sunday, was alive, fit and menacing throughout, and was worth his Man-of-the-Match award at the end of the game.
Ifeanyi Ifeanyi was sent off from the Nigerian team for two bookable offence while a Sudanese defender, Bakri Bachir, who was the last man of the defence line for his team was also given the marching order for hacking down Dayo Ojo.
Substitute goalkeeper, Dele Ajiboye, kept the Sudanese in check as his string of saves helped Eagles weathered the storm.
Sudan battled real hard to draw level but found real obstacle in Ajiboye who did everything to ensure Nigeria progressed to play in the final.
Even before kick-off of Sunday’s battle, Coach Yusuf and his wards have made history, as this is the first-time ever that Nigeria would reach the final of the competition, having won bronze medals at the 2014 finals in South Africa.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari last night congratulated the home-based Eagles on their victory over Sudan in Marrakesh, Morocco.
In a statement, Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, said Buhari joined millions of football loving Nigerians to celebrate the spectacular performance of the team which qualified them for the final on Sunday with Morocco.
The statement said having keenly followed the team’s progress throughout the tournament with delight, the president commended their hard-work, dedication, discipline and indomitable spirit, which he said were truly worthy of emulation.
It added that Buhari urged the players and the coaching crew to remain focused and determined as they go for Gold in the final match on Sunday.
“The president assures them of the unflinching support, goodwill and prayers of the Federal Government and all Nigerians as they soar to victory,” the statement added.