After a lackluster start at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote d’Ivoire, the Super Eagles are now on course for a fourth continental title after they squeezed past stubborn Palancas Negras of Angola 1-0 yesterday at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan to pick one of the available semi-final tickets.
Once again, Ademola Lookman who plays for Atlanta in the Italian serie A was the hero for Nigeria as he scored the only goal of the match in the 41st minute following a team move initiated by FC Porto man, Sanusi Zaidu.
The Super Eagles would have fallen behind as early as the fourth minute when Angola’s dangerman Mabululu sneaked in a shot on target but Stanley Nwabali reacted quickly to keep his close-range effort out.
In the second half, reigning African Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen, headed in Lookman’s inch-perfect free kick from the right but the goal was ruled out, following a VAR review. Desperate to the reach their first semi-finals, the Negras rallied late on to draw level but the Super Eagles stood firm for the well-deserved victory.
For most football fans in Nigeria, the victory didn’t come as a surprise because soon after they edged five-time champions, the Indomitable Lions 2-0 in the Round of 16, their darling Super Eagles had emerged as serious contenders for the prestigious AFCON trophy.
Moreover, before yesterday’s match, the Super Eagles had established an enviable record as the team that hardly falters when faced with quarter-final hurdles at the AFCON.
The win against Angola, therefore, made it Super Eagles’ 10th quarter-final victory at the continental showpiece. It is on record that the three-time African champions, faced quarter-finals battles 10 times before now and were victorious nine times.
The latest quarter-final success against Angola, apart from ensuring that the Super Eagles advanced to the last four at the ongoing AFCON, has reasonably assuaged the pain of the wound most Nigerian football fans have continued to nurse since 2005 when Angola stopped Nigeria from qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
The Palancas Negras had famously stopped the Super Eagles from reaching the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals, when the Eagles followed a 0-1 loss in Luanda to draw 1-1 with the Negras in a sunny Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano in June 2005. As a matter of fact, Germany 2006 is the only edition of the FIFA World Cup that the Super Eagles have missed since their debut appearance in 1994 in the USA.
However, even before the football tragedy in Kano, Angola had edged Nigeria to reach the last round of the qualification series for the 1990 FIFA World Cup finals in Italy, but the return leg in Nigeria that the Eagles won 1-0 was under a cloud of tragedy as playmaker Samuel Okwaraji collapsed and died 13 minutes from the end on 12th August 1989. Several other football fans lost their lives in a stampede that ensued after the game. The first leg in Luanda ended 2-2.
It was against this background that the Super Eagles threw everything at the Negras from the beginning to the end of the quarter-final match which was no doubt a grueling contest.
With the semi-final ticket in their kitty, the Super Eagles are now looking good to come home with the trophy. Nigerians who spoke to Trust Sports immediately after yesterday’s match congratulated the players and charged them to sustain the momentum as they wait to battle either Cape Verde or perennial rivals South Africa in the semi-finals.
Sen Barau optimistic Super Eagles will lift trophy
Following the victory over Angola, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Barau Jibrin, has congratulated the Super Eagles on their qualification for the semi-final and expressed optimism the team will go all the way and lift the coveted trophy.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ismail Mudashir, Senator Barau said “I congratulate the Super Eagles on their resounding victory over Angola which propelled them to the semi-final stage of the ongoing African Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast.
“The victory epitomizes the resilient spirit of our country and further shows that with dedication and commitment, we can always surmount our challenges. I urge the Super Eagles not to relent but go all the way and lift the Afcon trophy,” he said.
Super Eagles unstoppable, says Dep Speaker, Kalu
Also felicitating with the Super Eagles on their win over Angola, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Okezie Kalu said the former African champions remain unstoppable in her bid to win the 2023 AFCON.
The Deputy Speaker who was a member of the National Assembly delegation to Abidjan led by the Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio in solidarity with the Super Eagles said that the coast is now clear for Nigeria to reach the finals and lift the trophy.
He enjoined the team to remain focused on winning the trophy, assuring them of national assembly support.
Babangida, Mouktar, Yarma also believe Eagles will go all the way
A former international, Tijani Babangida and the FCT FA Chairman, Adam Mouktar Mohammed also hailed the Super Eagles and demanded maximum concentration in their remaining two matches.
Speaking to Trust Sports yesterday, Babangida said “I said it before that the Super Eagles are growing in confidence and they exhibited that again. What they need to bring home the trophy is more hard work.
“Some of the top nations like Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Cameroon and Ghana are out so the coast is now clear for the Super Eagles. They are favourites now but there should be no complacency,” said the Olympian.
On his part, Mohammed said “Big congratulations to the Super Eagles.We played a highly tactical game today. And we got the result we wanted. We were strong at the back and compact in the midfield. The players played to instructions.
“It is safe to say we can see ourselves getting to the final and winning the cup with such professional approach the players and technical crew have shown on each match. Let’s stay focused and not take anything for granted.”
A former Chairman of the Gombe State Sports Commission, Malam Farouk Yarma, also attributed the Super Eagles victory to defensive masterclass as he said the defenders did a tidy job against Angola.
“As Sir Alex Ferguson famously said, “Attack wins you games, but defense wins you titles.” Witnessing the resilience and stellar performance of our defenders throughout the tournament has been truly inspiring.
“They have allowed only one goal, demonstrating their growth with each match. I am confident that this squad will emulate the achievement of the 2013 team in South Africa, under the guidance of the late Coach Keshi. Hats off to the entire team and the backroom staff for making us proud,” said Yarma.