[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”mr97f9l26lYo3yEVYdweOcsKrEhxrHfG”]CHAN: Super Eagles zoom into semi-finals
Last night, the home-based team of the Super Eagles of Nigeria came back from the ‘dead’ to qualify for the semi-finals of the Championship of African Nations (CHAN). The Stephen Keshi-tutored lads bounced back from what seemed a hopeless situation to edge out Morocco 4-3 in an epic quarter-final game in Cape Town.
The superlative performance of the team has elicited profound salutations from President Goodluck Jonathan and the Senate President, David Mark.
While Jonathan congratulated the team on their exhilarating come-back victory over their Moroccan counterparts, Mark described the victory as ‘miraculous’, even as he referred to the ‘boys’ as worthy and dependable ambassadors.
Substitute Aliyu Ibrahim struck the decisive goal in extra time as the Super Eagles overturned a first half 3-0 deficit to win the game in a dramatic fashion.
The Atlas Lions raced into a shocking 3-0 lead in a horrific seven-minute spell for the Nigerians, and looked like wrapping up a rare win against their West African rivals, but Nigeria came back stronger in the second stanza, and duly pulled a goal back through Ugonna Uzochukwu.
From then on, it looked almost like a one-way show, as the Eagles muscled their way past the lethargic Moroccans.
On 56 minutes, the Super Eagles reduced the deficit to 3-2 through Rabiu Ali, who latched onto a knock-down and fired home a shot from just inside the penalty area.
The momentum was all with Nigeria from that point, but they had to wait until the dying minutes to finally equalise, as Ejike Uzoenyi cracked a shot into the goal via the underside of the crossbar to send the match to extra time.
From the blast of the whistle, Morocco made strong attempts at claiming the lead, when Mouhssine Iajour was presented with a shooting chance on the right of the penalty area, but his low effort was stopped by goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim.
In the 15th minute, Abdelkbir El-Ouadi latched onto a great pass inside the Nigerian penalty area, but he saw his shot well blocked by Erhun Obanor.
The Super Eagles gradually began to assert themselves as an attacking threat and by the midway point of the first half, they were unlucky not to force an opener in a goalmouth scramble.
Just before the half hour, Iajour flashed a left-footed shot nearly missing the target, and it took just another five minutes for Morocco to go ahead, with Mohsine Moutaouali providing a beautifully-chipped finish over Agbim after a break-out from midfield.
Few minutes later, Iajour made it 2-0 with a superb strike direct from a free-kick just outside the penalty area, beating Agbim with a left corner, curling shot.
With half time approaching, Morocco scored their third through Moutaouali, whose low shot to Agbim’s far right put the North Africans firmly in control.
Nigeria then began its dramatic comeback at the start of the second half when Ugonna Uzochukwu pulled a goal back.
Both sides showed a refreshing willingness to attack in the extra half hour and the Nigerians were rewarded with a fourth goal in the 110th minute through substitute Shehu Abubakar, who beat the Moroccan keeper, Lamyarghri, after the latter fumbled a cross.
In a statement issued by the presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, Jonathan applauded “the indomitable spirit with which the Super Eagles fought back from being three goals down to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and win a most memorable victory with almost the last kick of the match.
“The President commends the courage, patriotism, determination and dedication to national service exhibited by the Super Eagles today to all other Nigerians. He urges the team to maintain their exemplary commitment to national duty until ultimate victory in the continental soccer championship for the home-based players is achieved.
“Jonathan assures the team and its handlers that they will continue to receive the fullest possible support from the Federal Government and all Nigerians, as they strive to add the African Nations Championship trophy to the African Nations Cup, which Nigeria won last year.
“He joins all other patriotic and proud Nigerians in praying for the success of the team in the semi-finals and finals of the tournament,” the statement read.
Mark, in his congratulatory message, noted that the Nigerian representatives lived up to their billings in the encounter with the Atlas Lions of Morocco, by coming from behind, after three goals down to beat them with a final scoreline of 4-3.
He, therefore, told the Stephen Keshi-led team not to “leave anything to chance in the campaign to win the trophy for the nation. Coming from behind (three goals down) to beat your Moroccan counterparts is a proof of your professionalism and determination. This is miraculous.
“I am proud of you. The nation is proud of you. I earnestly assure you that your labour would not be in vain. Nigeria will reward you handsomely,” he said.
In Wednesday’s semi-final duel in Mangaung, Nigeria is billed to confront the winner of the Ghana-DR Congo quarter-final fixture taking place today at the same venue.