Substitute Gabriel Okechukwu scored in second half extra time to give Nigeria a 2-1 win over Angola in a quarter-final match of the 2018 African Nations Championships decided at the Stade Ibn Batouta in Tangier on Sunday.
The Eagles were punished after fifty-five minutes of profligacy when Hernilson Va gave Angola a shock lead after a poor clearance by debuting defender Timothy Danladi. Nigeria continued to miss scoring chances until in stoppage time when Anthony Okpotu evened scores for the Eagles, an atonement for his myriad of wasted opportunities.
Okechukwu then took matters into his own hands when he netted a solo effort in second half of extra time just from the edge of the box. The Eagles held on stoutly to secure victory in an extremely cold circumstance in the Northern Moroccan city.
Nigeria will now move to Marakesh for a semifinal date with Sudan at the Grand Stade de Marakesh on Wednesday after the East Africans pulled off a shock 1-0 defeat against Zambia on Saturday.
Nigerian coach Salisu Yusuf made two changes to the side which beat Equatorial Guinea in their final group game on Tuesday. Left-back Daniel Itodo failed to recover on time and so Enyimba teenager Ikouwem Udoh earned his first competitive appearance for Nigeria.
Midfielder Ifeanyi Ifeanyi was also reported to be carrying a knock and his place was taken by Rabiu Ali as Nigeria lined out in a 4-3-3 formation. Striker Anthony Okpotu remains trusted by his coach and led the line upfront for the Eagles.
It was Okpotu however who continued building up his catalog of misses in this competition within thirty seconds of the start. The Lobi Stars striker dragged his feet, hesitated then fell when put clean through on goal by Emeka Atuloma.
That was to set the tone for what would be another day of embarrassing misses by Nigeria, a reminiscent of their first group game against Rwanda here in Tangier.
Atuloma and his namesake, Emeka Ogbugh went close in the opening ten minutes as Nigeria started on the front foot but the Eagles were dealt a massive blow when reliable defender Orji Okogbue was stretchered off with twelve minutes on the clock.
Okogbue’s replacement Timothy Danladi is a stark opposite to the former. A raw and largely inexperienced lad who would later gift the Angolans their first and only goal from open play in the competition.
Angola grew into the contest and Mano demanded a superb fingertip save by Nigerian captain and goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa to turn away his left-footed volley. Five minutes later, it was Mano vs Ezenwa again and the Enyimba goalkeeper stood his ground to make a double save from point blank range.
Okpotu once again went close to scoring on 45 minutes but his effort after a good move by Ikouwem was cleared off the goal line. The Eagles’ injury worries further deepened five minutes earlier when Sunday Faleye apparently fractured his arm.
The brave young boy, Faleye continued until the second half but Nigeria suffered more injury blow just three minutes into the half. Winger Emeka Ogbugh was hit by a ball in the face and never really got well till he was substituted five minutes later.
On 55 minutes though, the game’s first goal arrived. Mano had exchanged passes with Fofo and while the return was slightly overhit, Danladi did the job for the Palancas Negras – making a hard work of hitting his clearance against Mano with the ball looping over a despairing Ezenwa.
Nigeria then poured forward especially after their final change which saw Gabriel Okechukwu replacing the injured Sunday Faleye just after the hour mark. Ironically however, the more they pour forward, the more they were in danger of conceding more.
Angola broke away a number of times midway through the half but goalkeeper Ezenwa was at his imperious best to deny Fofo twice before the final quarter of an hour when Nigeria really began to step up their search for equaliser.
Substitute Okechukwu thought he had evened scores thirteen minutes from time when he got on to the end of a Dayo Ojo cross but his header came off the post before hitting Angolan goalkeeper Landu Mavanga and rebounded to safety.
Six minutes later, Okechukwu received a pass from Okpotu but the Akwa United striker fired high and wide from point blank range. Nigeria however equalised in the first minute of stoppage time. Osas Okoro’s freekick was flicked by Rabiu Ali with Okpotu, keeping his gaze to stab home.
Nigeria were the better side in extra time and got their due reward in the second period when Okechukwu picked up a loose ball from Dayo Ojo, cut into his left and beat three Angolans on the line before shooting past Mavanga from 20 yards with the aid of a deflection from Wilson.
Nigeria thus qualified for the semi-final of the African Nations Championship for the second time in three editions and face a trip to Marakesh to face Sudan on Wednesday night.