25 January 2014

Nigeria/Morocco: CHAN Semi-Final Beckons for Nigeria, Morocco

Photo: CAF
The super Eagles made a dramatic come-back to book a semi-finals spot.

Today, inside the main bowl of the Cape Town Stadium in South Africa, the Super Eagles of Nigeria will square up against the Atlas Lions of Morocco in the first quarter-final match of the 2014 African Nations Championship (CHAN).

While the Super Eagles finished second in group A with 6 points behind Mali, Morocco topped group B to book today's meeting with Nigeria.

The second quarter-final match of the day, which involves between group A winners Mali and group B runners-up Zimbabwe comes up later at the same venue.

To get to this stage, the Super Eagles lost their first group match against Mali 1-2, defeated Mozambique 4-2 and walloped host South Africa 3-1. The Atlas Lions of Morocco on their part drew goalless with Zimbabwe in their opening match, drew 1-1 with Burkina Faso in their second game and recorded a 3-1 win over Uganda in their last group game on Monday.

Having come this far, both countries will throw in their all to ensure victory and a place in the semi-final of the biennial continental soccer showpiece.

Both Nigeria and Morocco parade a bunch of stars that can weave a winning pattern for their fatherland.

Though the Eagles will miss the services of Sunshine Stars of Akure defence ace Solomon Kwambe who was suspended in the match against South Africa, Nigeria is not lacking in any department. From goalkeeping position to defence, Nigeria is blessed with quality players that can ward off attacking forays from opposing teams.

The Eagles can also boast of one of the sharpest midfield and attack line at the championship, as diminutive Ejike Uzoenyi, bullish Faud Gbolaham Salami, Barnabas Imenger and Rabiu Ali can wreck any team in the tournament.

For the Atlas Lions of Morocco, their strength lies in the attack where Abdessad Rafik, Lajour Mouhssine, Abdelkbir El Ouadi and Brahim El Bahri have caused nightmares to opposing teams.

Since booking their places in the quarter-final on Sunday and Monday, players and the coaching staff of the two countries, who have been speaking on their chances of winning the encounter know that the talking time is over, as only the best team on the field of play will carry the day and make it to the last four of the championship.

Today's encounter is the first the two countries will be meeting in the tournament, as the two nations are making their debut in the competition this year having missed the two previous editions. Incidentally, Morocco ousted defending champions Tunisia to qualify for this year's tournament. Both countries have met 18 times at full international level with Morocco having upper hand, winning eight games against the six won by Nigeria, and four games have ended in draws After a slow start to the championship, the Eagles are gradually building confidence in themselves and the generality of Nigerian soccer fans.

Most Nigerians had even written off Stephen Keshi's team after they fell 2-1 to Mali in their opening group game, but they bounced back in typical Nigerian style to beat Mozambique and hosts South Africa to reach the knockout stage of the tournament reserved for players featuring in their country's local leagues.

Even the team's handler said after the quarter-final qualification on Sunday the team is still work in progress, but however expressed happiness that the players are finally playing to his instructions.

"The magic was that we simply asked the boys to go out there and play their game without pressure, enjoy your game and be yourself and I think they got that right perfectly against a very difficult opponent," Keshi said after the Eagles thrashed South Africa 3-1 to reach their first CHAN quarter-final.

Also speaking on today's encounter, Super Eagles defence ace, Azubuike Egwuekwe, said that the players will not let the country down when the battle Morocco on Saturday. He said the presence of the officials during one of the team's training sessions has helped to boost the players' morale and that will show today when the team tackles Morocco.

"We have come thus far, we cannot afford to disappoint ourselves and the nation", he said grinning.

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has also been playing its part by providing incentives and moral support to boost the players' ego ahead of the crunchy tie today.

NFF team during a visit to the training, praised the players for their heroics against Bafana Bafana of South Africa, and urged them to do more in their subsequent matches.

Vice President of the Federation, Chief Mike Okeke Umeh, while addressing the players after over two hours of training in Cape Town, said the federation President, Alhaji Aminu Maigari was impressed with the team but would want them to title for the country.

"The President asked me to tell you that you have done well so far but there is still job to be done and that is why we are here to remind you to listen to your coaches and deliver the goods against Morocco.

"Indeed you have shown the world that there is no Super Eagles team A or B again because of your performance here and we are sure that at the end of the day we will carry the day by taking the trophy home," Umeh said.

For his part, Head Coach of the Atlas Lions of Morocco, Hassan Benabicha, has said facing Nigeria in the quarter-final over the weekend does not scare him because he knows how to approach that game.

The Morocco team silenced Uganda Cranes 3-1 on Monday at the Cape Town Stadium to book a place against Stephen Keshi's Super Eagles who also made sure hosts South Africa do not make it to the last eight.

"We started the 2014 Africa Nations Championship poorly with two draws, but we have picked up our momentum at the right time and we are looking forward to the quarter final stage now," added the former International Benabicha.

He said although the Super Eagles play good football, his team will be at it's best come the quarter final clash. "We know what to expect against Nigeria, but we are going to use the four free days to prepare well in all aspects ahead of the game," Benabicha said.

The Coach said although his team has continued to create many scoring chances but taking few, he will work a lot on the attack to get sharper and sharper since the tournament has got to the knock out stage.

The stage is now set and the global football community, particularly Africans will enjoy quality football involving two of the continent's greatest football playing nations.

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