Nigeria yesterday in Marrakesh, Morocco proved that when you have the guts you could achieve your dream. The odds were stacked against Salisu Yusuf’s boys in their African Nations Championship (CHAN) semifinal game against favourites, Sudan, but the home-based Eagles, who played about 30 minutes of the game one man down, defied the pundits’ predictions to come away with their first final ticket in three outings at the competition.
The Sudanese started the game like a house on fire, but they were rebuffed by the Nigerians, whose goalkeeper and captain, Ikechukwu Ezenwa was in inspired form.
Ezenwa, however, had to pay the price for his daring moves when he was injured in the seventh minute while trying to thwart an onrushing Mohamed Idris. He could not come back to the game and in came Dele Ajiboye.
Despite the setback, Nigeria took the lead in the 16th minute when Gabriel Okechukwu shot past Sudan’s goalkeeper, Akram from close range after beating the defence with his pace. Before Okechukwu’s goal, Sudan had a glorious opportunity to grab the lead in the 15th minute, but Ajiboye was quick to read the danger.
The Eagles could have increased the tally in the 25th minute through Okechukwu but his left-footed shot sailed inches wide of Akram’s left corner.
The first half ended 1-0 in Nigeria’s favour despite Sudan’s dominance in the later part of the half. The second half began with Nigeria more purposeful, but the Eagles were deflated when Ifeanyi Ifeanyi was sent off in the 58th minute for a dangerous tackle.
Sudan tried to take advantage of their numerical advantage but they met Ajiboye in inspired form. With three minutes to go, Sudan were also reduced to 10 men when Bakri Bachir received a straight red for bringing down Solomon Ojo.
Ajiboye kept his team in the game after producing two brilliant saves in the 90th minute to ensure they are through to the final.
Nigeria will meet hosts, Morocco, who defeated Libya 3-1 in first semifinal.