Nigeria set up an African Championship final with hosts Morocco after a labored 1-0 win over Sudan on Wednesday.
Gabriel Okechukwu’s first-half goal and the heroics of goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye helped secure Nigeria their first final in the history of the competition.
Sudan dominated the game and had plenty of chances, but Okechukwu’s moment of brilliance after 16 minutes settled the semi-final match in Nigeria’s favour.
An excellent move, which started with Kalu Orji’s long ball, saw Okechukwu latch on to Anthony Okpotu’s flicked header before firing past goalkeeper Akram El Hadi.
Salisu Yusuf’s side were forced to make an early change after goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa collided with Mohammed Hashim. Ezenwa’s replacement, Ajiboye, put up a good performance, though. The former FIFA U17 World Cup winner denied the East Africans on many occasions.
In first-half stoppage time, the Plateau United man pushed Ahmed Bashir’s glancing header onto the post before Orji cleared the rebound.
After the interval, Sudan continued where they left off, pressing high and hunting in numbers, with Nigeria — who played most of the second half with a numerical disadvantage as a result of Ifeanyi Ifeanyi’s dismissal seven minutes after the break — resorting to counter attacks.
The strategy nearly paid off for Yufuf’s team, when Ekundayo Ojo raced towards the Desert Hawks’ box from the centre of the pitch. Sudan survived the scare but it came at a price, as Bakri Bachir received a straight red card for shoving the midfielder as he looked destined to make a goalscoring attempt, ensuring that the two teams finished with 10 men.
Ajiboye continued his heroics late on — keeping out Abdel Latif’s pointblank effort and then pushing an header over the crossbar — to keep the lead and send Nigeria into the final•