Chairman of the NFF Technical and Development Committee, Alhaji Yusuf Ahmed has praised the resoluteness of the Super Eagles following their 2-1 win over Angola on Sunday that took Nigeria to the semi finals of the African Nations Championship for only the second time ever.
“The boys have really and truly done Nigeria proud. There are still battles to conquer but we must commend them for overcoming strong oppositions right from the group stage to make it to the last four.
“Of course, it is one match at a time. But I am happy that we have a team that has been showing excellent spirit and resilience, and I see them going all the way.”
Nigeria have been in the CHAN’s last four only once before – when the squad coached by Stephen Keshi (of blessed memory) eventually took the bronze medals at the 2014 finals in South Africa.
The Super Eagles once more exhibited the globally –renowned ‘Nigeria spirit’ by coming from a goal down to triumph, for the second consecutive game at the 5th African Nations Championship.
Against Equatorial Guinea in their last group phase encounter in Agadir on Tuesday, Nsi Eyama’s bullet header put the Eagles behind five minutes before half time. But Anthony Okpotu sneaked between two defenders to level up in the 59th minute and further goals from Dayo Ojo and Rabiu Ali ensured Nigeria finished top of the table.
Angola had designs coming into Sunday’s match, with the plan being to use their pace and run hard at the Nigerian defence and force Stephen Eze, Kalu Okogbue, Osas Okoro and Ikouwem Utin to commit errors. That plan did not work against a tested back –line.
Utin, playing his first match of the tournament in place of the injured Daniel James, was calm and collected, and launched attacks brilliantly. He fitted well into the equation. Even when centre –back Kalu Orji Okogbue got injured, substitute Timothy Danladi acquitted himself well and showed that Nigeria indeed have strength-in-depth.
Old war –horse Rabiu Ali, showing no signs of slowing down, and Dayo Ojo worked hard in the midfield, same for Emeka Atuloma and substitute Augustine Oladapo. Another substitute, Gabriel Okechukwu, got the winner in extra time.
Wednesday’s semi final against Zambia’s conqueors, Sudan in Marrakech will test the Super Eagles’ mettle further, but a team that has held its own while leading and came back from deficit in consecutive matches have tasted the swings possible in a match and have nothing to fear.
Anthony Okpotu, top scorer in the Nigeria elite division last season, has fought hard and worked hard in this competition, and is Nigeria’s leading scorer with two goals. He has the potential to do more, of course, and that opportunity presents itself as Nigeria aim to bypass Sudan into Sunday’s Championship match at Casablanca’s Stade Mohamed V.
The Eagles have improved with every game, from a scoreless draw wih Rwanda in their first match, to pipping 2014 champions Libya with a late goal and then coming from behind to defeat Equatorial Guinea and Angola.
“Our progress has been remarkable. A team that gets better with each game is likely to emerge champions at the end of a competition. We are looking forward to the Eagles making us proud by winning this trophy for the first time,” Fresh’s deputy in the Technical and Development Committee, Sharif Rabiu Inuwa, told thenff.com.
Wednesday’s clash in Marrakech will kick off at 7.30pm Morocco time (8.30pm in Nigeria).