01 February 2018 12:58
Nigeria set up a final date with host Morocco after a Gabriel Okechukwu a first half strike handed them victory against resilient Sudan on Wednesday in Marrakech.
Okechukwu’s 16th minute strike separated the two sides as Nigeria survived onslaughts from the Desert Hawks to reach a first final in the history of the championship designed exclusively for footballers playing in their domestic leagues.
A game that saw the two sides finish with ten men each; it was the Super Eagles who counted themselves luckier in a game the Sudanese never gave up until the final whistle.
The Nigerians were dealt a major blow as early as the fifth minute when goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa was forced off after colliding with Mohamed Hashim. However his replacement Ajiboye Oladale proved equal to the task as his superb saves was vital in the Super Eagles progress to the decisive stage of the competition.
On 16 minutes, Anthony Okpotu’s flick found Okechukwu who slid past Sudan goalie Akram El Hadi for the opener.
Okputu should have doubled the lead two minutes later but Akram had the better of him in a one-on-one situation.
The Sudanese kept the Nigerian defence boiling in the dying embers of the first half but Ajiboye saved Ahmed Bashir’s glancing header on the stroke of time.
Sudan resumed the better of the two sides and their dominance in the forced Nigeria midfield Ifeanyi Ifeanyi to earn himself a second yellow card on 57 minutes, and eventually his marching off orders.
The Desert Hawks made the most of the numerical advantage as the Nigerians esoted to counter attacks.
Seven minutes from time, Ajiboye was again to Nigeria’s rescue denying Abdel Latif Ismail before Stephen Eze ballooned away a goalbound shot on the line.
Sudan suffered a huge blow when Bakri Makki was sent off on 87 minutes for fouling Okechukwu, who had broken loose on the counter, just outside the penalty area.
Ajiboye kept Nigeria with two decisive saves in stoppage time as Sudan were left to rue to their missed opportunities.
Nigeria will face Morocco in Sunday’s final, whilst Sudan battles Libya in third place match 24-hours earlier.
Total Man of the Match: Gabriel Okechukwu (Nigeria)
Gabriel Okechukwu iucku (Total man of the Match)
I’m excited that we won. It was a collective effort not just one man effort. Kudos to the whole team. It was not an easy game but in the end, we emerged victorious.
The victory means a lot to get to this stage.
I felt bad when Ikechukwu Ezenwa was injured because for a player to get injured whilst playing is not a good feeling.
However, I did not panic because I knew the substitute (Ajiboye Oladele) was equal to the task.
Yusuf Salisu (Head Coach, Nigeria)
It was really hard for both sides. They (Sudan) pushed us to the wall especially after the red card.
We tried to go on the counter attack and make the defence compact defence so as not to give spaces for them at the back.
They had some good moments but we defeated them in the end.
For the game against Morocco, every team is beatable. If we do the right things, why not! We can beat Morocco.
Zdravko Logarusic (Head Coach, Sudan)
Sometimes in football, you don’t deserve to lose but end up losing. Other times, you don’t deserve to win, but end up winning. Today was one of such days.
Nigeria put the ball in the net, and that made the difference.
What is important after five weeks of being in charge is that we are seeing some progress and are playing nice football.
We have boys who can compete against any country. Today, we did not play against just any country; it was Nigeria, which is a giant in football.
It was good for African football. We have pick some experience and will prepare for the next game.
It was a very high level game with high challenges and many chances.
On the Nigerian substitute goalkeeper (Oladele Ajiboye), he started well and for me he is the Man of the Match. He is the one who gave Nigeria the final slot.
When they needed help at the back, he was the man who saved them.