Nigeria on Wednesday night overwhelmed Sudan and shot into the 2018 CHAN final with a decisive goal by Gabriel Okechukwu in the first half.
The Eagles had to withstand so much pressure and they have substitute goalkeeper, Dele Ajiboye, to thank for getting to Sunday’s final. They will lock horns with host Morrocco in their chase for their first CHAN trophy.
The Eagles had Orji Okagbue back in the starting eleven but Emeka Atuloma, Sunday Faleye, and Emeka Ogbuh missed out while Sudan was unchanged from the team that beat Zambia last Sunday.
The Eagles took the kickoff and tried to press the Falcons in their half but then suffered a huge casualty in the sixth minute when some sloppy defending from Stephen Eze got Ikechukwu Ezenwa injured.
After treatment, he was stretchered off and replaced by Plateau United’s Dele Ajiboye.
Saifeldin Bakhit should have put Sudan ahead on 15 minutes but he could not sort out his feet on time. Straight away the Eagles went to the side and scored.
Gabriel Okechukwu, who got the winner against Angola latched on to a header from Tony Okpotu and rolled the ball past the flailing hands of Akram El Hadi Salim.
In the closing stages of the half, Sudan had three chances to get on even terms but Ajiboye came to the rescue.
In the space of a minute, Mohamed Bashir had good chances in the box. First, in the 44th minute, he was foiled by a tackle from Ajiboye and seconds later, Bashir thought he had the equaliser with a downward header but Ajiboye made a miraculous save off his left post.
Coach Salisu Yusuf has to bring order to his midfield as the trio of Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, Dayo Ojo, and Rabiu Ali was not able to dictate play as the Sudanese grew more dangerous.
The half was just seconds old when Ali freed Okechukwu but this time his shot was straight at Salim.
Okpotu, who had been rudderless then had all the time to shoot wide.
Salim made another save off an Ojo shot after good work down the right flank by Ali and Okpotu.
Maaz Gismalla then had another chance to level the tie but he wasted too much time before shooting – which Ajiboye cradled.
It went sour for the Nigerians in the 58th minute when a dangerous two-footed tackle from Ifeanyi fetched a second yellow card.
Nigerians went down to 10 men. After this, it was back to the wall defending by the Eagles with Ajiboye making save after save.
He made an acrobatic save with his right hand in the 84th minute, then a double save in the first minute of added time to finally send the Eagles into a first-ever CHAN final where they will meet Morocco on Sunday.
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