Nigeria completed one of the most amazing comebacks in modern football when they came from three goals down at half-time to beat a shocked Morocco 4-3 and progress to the semis of the CHAN tournament in a compelling game played at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Atlas Lions had raced to a 3-0 in the first 45 minutes but Nigeria’s never-say-die attitude saw them overhaul that mammoth deficit in an electrifying second half to take the match into extra-time.
Buoyed by the second half fight-back, they stunned the shell-shocked Moroccans with a second half extra-time winner that set this imposing venue alight.
It was the type of game that critics will talk over and over again – and once more showed an array of talent awash on the African continent.
On a sun-drenched afternoon, Morocco were the first off the blocks but Iajour Mouhssine’s effort was well blocked by in-form Chigozie Agbim after only 50 seconds on the board.
The Super Eagles then forced the first two corner kicks of the day in the seventh minute but on both occasions, gave Moroccans little problems.
It was a bright start expected of the two big guns who many thought should not have met in the early stages of the game.
Abdelkbir El Ouadi wasted the first really great opportunity as the Atlas Lions fashioned better openings.
But in the 22nd minute Morocco were forced to defend in desperation during a goal-mouth melee.
Mouhssine was in action again on the 28th minute but his angled shot went tantalisingly wide of the diving Agbim as the Super Eagles failed to heed warning signals.
Soon after, they paid the price when the North Africans took the lead in the 33rd minute with a delicate chip by Mohsine Moutaouali after he had received a fine pass from Fatah Said.
It was a lead the Moroccans fully deserved.
The Super Eagles replied but Fuad Salami’s full-blooded shot went wide in the 34th minute.
Morocco’s Mouhssine was then pushed off the ball two minutes later from just outside the box and from the resultant free kick, sent a swerving shot beyond Agbim to make it 2-0.
With everyone expecting them to sit back and defend their 2-0 cushion, the Atlas Lions went further ahead in 40th minute when Moutaouali’s angled shot beat Agbim hands down following another subtle pass from Mouhssine who had an outstanding afternoon. The North Africans then threatened to run riot and their 3-0 half-time lead was well deserved.
They created better openings and with better finishing could have had two or three more by the time the referee blew for half-time.
Rabiu Ali’s long range effort seconds into the second period showed the Super Eagles’ clear intentions.
In the 49th minute, Ugonna Uzochukwu pulled one back for the Super Eagles, bringing back excitement in the contest.
Nigeria scored a second six minutes later to make it 3-2 through Rabiu Ali as the encounter became delicately poised.
It was a remarkable reply that astounded the Atlas Lions who had made a cardinal error of defending in the second half.
Abdessamad Rafik was then foiled by Agbim on the 61st minute when his header was tipped over the bar. Nigeria probed further and Abubakar Ibrahim’s dipping shot went narrowly over the bar as the Super Eagles poured forward in search of the equaliser.
They finally made it 3-3 on the stroke of full-time through Christantus Ejike to complete one of the most fascinating comebacks to send the match into extra-time.
The two teams then created a lot of chances but with fatigue setting in, it was going to take a defensive error from either side to take the lead. And that is what happened midway through the second half of extra time.
Morocco goalkeeper and captain, Nadir Lamyaghri spilled an easy ball and Ibrahim slotted home a rebound to send the Eagles into the last four.
[CREDIT: CAF ]