Nigeria’s Super Eagles produced a resilient display to beat Sudan and earn a final place at the African Nations Championship in Morocco.
Striker Gabriel Okechukwu scored the game’s only goal on seventeen minutes and the Nigerians defied all the Sudanese threats to book their place in a historic first final.
Our Chief Football Writer Fisayo Dairo was among the sizeable number of spectators that watched Wednesday’s game at the Stade de Marrakech and brings home four crucial factors that played no small part in Nigeria’s victory.
- Gabriel Okechukwu’s real pointman performance
His overall footballing abilities have been questioned but with Wednesday’s display, Okechukwu has done a great deal to affirm his qualities.
His goal was perfectly executed, his overall hold-up play was exceptional and when his more illustrious strike-partner Tony Okpotu tuned off, he led the line on his own with great distinction against a formidable opposition.
Dele Ajiboye came so close to snatch Okechukwu’s Man of the Match award but the Akwa United man was good value for his award.
- Dele Ajiboye’s exceptional performance
As highlighted in my last paragraph, Dele Ajiboye who replaced the first choice Ikechukwu Ezenwa after ten minutes turned out to be Nigeria’s saving grace.
When the defence switched off momentarily in the first half, Ajiboye pulled off two crucial saves before adding two more extraordinary ones in stoppage time among others in the second half.
Nigeria are definitely blessed with goalkeepers and Ajiboye once again confirmed this with his heroics in Marrakech, a happy hunting ground for him personally.
- Dayo Ojo’s discretionary play.
With Sudan piling up the pressure against Nigeria’s ten men, a rare opportunity to break occurred five minutes from time.
Okechukwu thread the pass for Dayo Ojo who raced clear with the last breath in his nostrils. Apparently unsure of scoring, he decided to change direction, leaving the trailing defender Bekir Bachir with no choice than to foul him and receive a sending off to balance the equation.
That weathered the storm for the final five minutes before Sudan later threatened with dead balls in stoppage time.
- Salisu Yusuf’s important risks and intervention
The greatest gamble of the year 2018 so far has to be centre back Orji Kalu Okogbue starting Wednesday’s game.
The Rangers man was carrying a bad injury and even failed to train since the team’s last game but he was somehow risked, playing through the pain barrier to post an impregnable performance in Nigeria’s defence.
Asides that, after Ifeanyi’s dismissal on the hour mark, Yusuf introduced defender Abdullahi Musa in place of the misfiring Okpotu while his final choice of Ibrahim Mustapha for Rabiu Ali proved decisive as the Enyimba man helped the team with his energy.
Youngster Ikouwem Udoh continues to earn plaudits, if not for anything, but his shocking bravery at that level while Austin Oladapo stepped up in the second half and ensured two Sudanese got into the referee’s books.
The win is sealed and Nigeria get the chance to contest for the final with a stricken side, although that is a story for another day.
In this moment, Nigeria should enjoy their victory.