Gabriel Okechukwu’s cold blooded finish in the first half gave ten-man Nigeria a 1-0 victory over Sudan to secure passage into Sunday’s final of the 2018 African Nations Championship.
Nigeria were reduced to ten men just before the hour mark when midfielder Ifeanyi Ifeanyi received a second caution before the Sudanese got a marching order of theirs five minutes from time after defender Bachir Bakir fouled Dayo Ojo at the edge of the box.
The Eagles held on with a solid tactical display after Ifeanyi’s dismissal but still required goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye saving them in stoppage time.
Wednesday’s victory at the Grande Stade de Marrakech sets Nigeria on the road to Casablanca for a final date with hosts Morocco who earlier defeated Libya 3-1 after extra time.
[Updated part] The Nigerian side, stretched with injuries to key players received a further blow after just seven minutes when reliable first choice goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa was clattered into by defender Stephen Eze.
The Enyimba goalkeeper received a kick to his knee cap when both him and his defender were trying to stop Sudan’s Hashim from getting to the ball. Ezenwa was subsequently replaced by Dele Ajiboye, also an experienced former youth international.
Ajiboye was called to action soon after as he rescued the Eagles after hesitation from Eze with Mohammed Hashim almost pouncing.
The Eagles however went ahead on 16 minutes through their match winner in the quarter final, Gabriel Okechukwu. The lanky striker latched on Tony Okpotu’s flick to Orji Kalu’s accurate long ball, kept his composure and fired past goalkeeper Akram Elhadi.
Nigeria almost doubled their lead two minutes later after Rabiu Ali found Tony Okpotu with a ball over the top but the striker’s effort was blocked by Akram from point blank range.
Nigeria stayed on the ascendancy with Okechukwu and Ali firing wide but the Sudanese gave them a reminder of what they are capable of on 35 minutes when a swift counterattack ended with Malik Saifeldin’s header going inches wide.
Sudan threatened once again five minutes later but Mohammed Bechir’s effort left much more to be desired after a superb team move.
The biggest action of the half after the goal came when Ajiboye produced two outstanding saves to preserve Nigeria’s lead. The Plateau United man pushed Bechir’s header on to the post shortly after denying Hashim from point blank range.
Nigeria took their lead to the second half but Ajiboye once again had to rescue his side nine minutes after the break when he denied Hashim after an impeccable passing move by Sudan.
The Eagles character were to be further tested three minutes later when midfielder Ifeanyi Ifeanyi was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Despite the sending off, Nigeria continually kept the Sudanese at bay, reducing them to hopeless long range efforts while the Eagles also had occasional efforts at goal on the break.
After playing with ten men for about thirty minutes, the Sudanese got a sending off of theirs. Former Sudan based midfielder, Dayo Ojo ran almost the length of the pitch with the ball before being felled by defender Bachir Bakri who was dismissed by the Senegalese referee Malang Diedhiou.
The ensuing free kick by Osas Okoro narrowly misses the top corner.
Nigeria held on until the final two minutes of stoppage time when Ajiboye tipped over, a header by Omer Soliman before Osas Okoro cleared off the line seconds later.
The Super Eagles will have a lot of worries going to Sunday’s final after Ezenwa’s injury and Ifeanyi’s sending off but for the moment, they can enjoy their victory.
Nigeria XI vs Sudan
Ezenwa (Ajiboye 11′); Okoro, Eze, Orji, Ikouwem; Ifeanyi, Ali (Mustapha 77′), Ojo, Oladapo; Okechukwu, Okpotu (Abdullahi Musa 62′)
Booked: Ifeanyi 45′ 58′, Mustapha 90
Dismissal: Ifeanyi Ifeanyi 58′
Goal: Gabriel Okechukwu 16′