By Albert Akota
Okechukwu Gabriel scored an extra-time winner as Nigeria sealed their place in the semi-finals of the 2018 African Nations Championship (Chan) with a 2-1 win over Angola at the Stade Ibn Batouta in Tangier, Morocco yesterday.
Vladimir Vá’s second-half goal swung the game in Angola’s favour, but Anthony Okpotu leveled matters in stoppage-time before Gabriel settled matters in the 109th minute of the clash.
As a result, Nigeria will take on Sudan in Marrakech on Wednesday for a place in the tournament showpiece.
Okpotu squandered a golden chance to put the Super Eagles in front within the opening 20 seconds of the clash. But, having burst through on goal, the forward slipped at the vital moment with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Having navigated through a relentless spell of pressure, Palancas Negras threatened to make the Super Eagles rue their missed opportunities as they gained the upper-hand in the closing stages of the first half.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa was impressive throughout in goal for Nigeria and the shot-stopper pulled of three great saves to deny Calesso Manu within the space of six pulsating minutes.
Okpotu, though, had another chance to put Nigeria a goal up just short of the break, but Braulio Nary was well positioned to clear off the line after Mavanga Landu misjudged a cross into the area.
The game continued to ebb and flow following the interval with both teams missing further chances before Vá’s opener in the 55th minute. Timothy Timothy unlucky as his attempted clearance cannoned off the Angolan midfielder and into the back of the net.
Nigeria surged forward in search of the equalizer, but a place in the final four threatened to slip from their reach as Gabriel squandered two gilt-edged chances in quick succession.
The forward watched on in agony as his header attempt cannoned off the woodwork, onto the Angolan goalkeeper’s head and away from danger in the 77th minute. This before skying a shot over the crossbar with only the shot-stopper to beat seven minutes later.
Persistence finally paid dividends for the Nigerians in stoppage time as Okpotu hammered home from close range to send the game into extra-time.
Like Okpotu, Gabriel would also make amends as he struck home what would prove to be the winner in the second-half of added time.
The forward weaved his way past two Palancas Negras defenders before firing home a left-footed shot into the back of the net from the edge of the area to send the Super Eagles fans into delirium, and Nigeria into the semis.