Nigeria and Morocco to contest Final of CHAN

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar February 7, 2018 18:54



February 2018
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Nigeria and Morocco to contest Final of CHAN

By Satish Sekar at Marrakech’s Grand Stade © Satish Sekar (January 31st 2018)

Nigeria overcome Sudan

Nigeria’s local based Super-eagles had to overcome both a redoubtable Sudan and injury to the inspirational captain and goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, tonight. After just 7 minutes Ezenwa was badly hurt in an accidental clash with central defender Stephen Eze. He could not continue and was replaced by Oladele Ajiboye, who went on to put in a heroic performance.

Ajiboye won the Under-17 World Cup against Spain in 2007. The injury to Ezenwa looked serious – the word is that he has no chance of playing in Sunday’s final. Ajiboye’s magnificent performance – he made a string of fine saves – suggests that goalkeeping is one area where Nigeria are spoilt for choice.

The same ought to be true up front, but after a good WAFU Cup of Nations, Anthony Okpotu’s confidence has plummeted. Two goals do not seem to have restored it. Yet again Okpotu looked a shadow of the striker he had been in Ghana, but despite an early crisis over confidence Okechukwu Gabriel found his form again, scoring the goal that put Nigeria through to their second local final in just over three months.

With just over a quarter of an hour played a quick pass forward was flicked on by Anthony Okpotu into the path of Gabriel who neatly slotted it past the on-rushing Sudanese captain, Akram Tam. Sudan coach Zdravko Logarusic pointed out that his team had chances and were unlucky while admitting that they had been a bit lucky against Zambia.

Both teams ended the match with ten men. Nigeria had to defend their lead for most of the second half after a reckless challenge by Ifeanyi Ifeanyi on 58 minutes earned a deserved second yellow card. Ifeanyi remained on the ground – he had to be invited to his feet to receive the red card.

Ajiboye’s heroics kept Nigeria ahead – just, but with three minutes remaining Sudan evened the numbers as Bakri Bashir earned his marching orders for impeding Ekundayo Ojo when the midfielder was through on goal. Defensive partner Omer Suleiman Koko picked up a yellow card that rules him out of the third place match in Marrakech on Saturday.

Atlas Lions conquer Mediterranean Knights in Extra Time

With Nigeria in the final eyes turned to Casablanca to see if hosts Morocco could reach the final too. Omar Maryami was back on Libya’s bench after serving his ban for running onto the pitch to celebrate his team’s last gasp winner over Rwanda. The Atlas Lions were the better team, winning 3-1 after extra time, but seemed to get the rub of the green.

Ayoub el Kaabi has already emerged as the striker to fear. With 6 goals in 4 matches he is comfortably heading the scoring charts – Libya’s Salah Taher, one of his closest challengers, has just half his tally. El Kaabi already has the highest total for a single CHAN with power to add. Inevitably, el Kaabi was on tip-top form tonight. He could and should have had a hat-trick, but had to settle for a brace.

El Kaabi opened the scoring after 24 minutes. The ink is drying on Achraf Bencharki’s move to al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, but he still played. His free-kick from the left flank after 24 minutes was headed onto the crossbar with keeper Mohamed Nashnush well beaten. The rebound was tamely headed back to the keeper by of all people el Kaabi. With just 6 minutes played Morocco would have taken the lead but for the last-ditch intervention of Motasem Sabou to deny Walid el Karti after the play-maker, taking advantage of the injury to Abdelilah Hafidi, beat the keeper. Libya will meet Sudan for third place on Saturday while one of Morocco or Nigeria will win their first African Nations Championship in Casablanca on Sunday.

Libya produced chances too. After an hour, Taher’s header beat goalkeeper Anas Zniti, but the Atlas Lions were saved by Abdeljalil Jbira’s goal-line clearance. With just over a quarter of an hour of normal time remaining el Kaabi pounced. Zakaria Hadraf took advantage of a defensive error to reach the by-line and cross for el Kaabi to bury his header into the net.

That could and would have been enough, but Zniti’s attempt to play the ball backfired. A very poor touch enabled Taher to rob him of possession and square for Abdulrahman Khalifa to tap in the easiest goal he’ll score for a long while.

That sent the match into extra time. Six minutes into the first period, the Atlas Lions had regained the lead, albeit in somewhat fortuitous fashion. Hadraf’s corner was headed on at the near post by Jawad el Yamiq, another player who has found a new club and not in Morocco. El Yamiq’s header was inadvertently deflected by Khalifa into the path of el Kaabi at the back post – he wasn’t about to miss from that range.

The match ended on a sour note as despite complaints that Ahmed Eltrbi got the ball, the Libyan defender was penalised for a two-footed challenge on Walid el Karti. After dusting himself el Karti – stuttered run and all – dispatched the penalty to give Morocco a place in Sunday’s final courtesy of the 3-1 win. If the Atlas Lions win, it will be their first major trophy for 30 years – they hosted AFCON that year.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar February 7, 2018 18:54