Nigeria Vs. Morocco | The five duels that will determine new CHAN 2018 winner
It is the end of three grueling weeks and Morocco, hosts of the 2018 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN]), and Nigeria, bronze winners in 2014, are meeting in Sunday’s final.
These two countries last met in the 2014 CHAN quarterfinal. The Moroccans raced to a three-goal lead in 40 minutes but the Eagles at the end trumped the Lions 4-3.
Coach of the Moroccan team, Jamal Sellami, believes Sunday’s final would be a physical contest, and he could be right. “Nigeria have individual players and they want to win duels but my team is prepared and we have qualities to get solutions against them,” he said in the pre-match conference.
Here are the five most important duels the Super Eagles have to win against the Atlas Lions to win a first-ever CHAN tournament.
Stephen Eze Vs. El Kaabi
Instead of Achraf Bencharki impressing Herve Renard (the coach of the World Cup-bound Atlas Lions), it is little known 24-year-old Ayoub El Kaabi that is grabbing all the headlines after scoring eight goals in five matches. That is why the Eagles’ giant central defender, Eze, must be immaculate on Sunday or else his team will pay a costly price. El Kaabi is an unorthodox forward, who is instinctive on where to be when his team attack. Eze can be the surprise in Gernot Rohr’s World Cup team if his game continues to improve and the entire world will be watching on Sunday.
Osas Okoro Vs. Zakaria Hadraf
Okoro has been very consistent in Morocco, posting above-average ratings in all five matches played. Against Hadraf, he will face someone in the guise of Libya’s Mohamed Aleyat, but more direct. The Rangers man cannot afford any loss of concentration, whether in front of him or balls behind him. The only negative for Okoro in Morocco has been his headed clearances, which were not delivered far enough away from dangerous areas. For Okoro on Sunday, it will be better to be safe than sorry.
Head to head
3 – 4
0 – 1
2 – 0
2 – 0
0 – 0
Emeka Atuloma Vs. Ismail El Haddad
El Haddad does his best work in that space between the midfield and defence, where Emeka Atuloma should patrol, all things been equal on Sunday. Atuloma has the physique to undertake this task successfully but he must also improve his passing accuracies. When he wins the ball, he needs to use it well as any turnovers near the Nigerian defence would spell danger.
Dayo Ojo Vs. Achraf Bencharki
Ojo started the tournament on the bench but has steadily grown into a mainstay of the CHAN Eagles. His boundless energy and steady nature would be needed to combat the cunning Bencharki on Sunday. Bencharki knows this could be his last chance to convince national team selectors he is worthy of at least getting a chance for World Cup camping and he will try to be at his best creating chances for El Kaabi, and arriving in the box at the right time. Ojo cannot afford to pass Bencharki on when in play – he must finish the marking.
Eagles Vs. 12th man (Fans)
The crowd will be raucous and the stadium will be painted red. Welcome to North African football passion. There will be lasers into the eyes and the referee will be under pressure. The Eagles must be prepared to batter down the fans’ fervor on Sunday.
Coach Salisu Yusuf understands this because he said in the pre-match conference, “We know the Morocco team will be backed by their fans but we have shown a lot of character in the previous matches.”
One way of quieting the fans is to score first or ensure they cannot build up a head of steam in the first 30 minutes. That way everyone will calm down!
These CHAN Eagles have truly exemplified the Nigerian spirit – never knowing or acknowledging defeat even in the face of it. The 92nd-minute equaliser against Angola showed this; their resilience with 10 men against Sudan magnified it. It would take something special to defeat this team on Sunday.
Three common themes
· Nigeria and Morocco both played friendly matches against Cameroon before the tournament kicked off. While the Eagles were held to a goalless draw in a very physical encounter, Morocco beat the Indomitable Lions 3-1.
· Libya played Nigeria in the group phase while Morocco needed extra time in the semifinals. In this tournament, Libya have only been beaten in 90 minutes by Nigeria.
· Sudan has played both Nigeria and Morocco – drawing with the hosts in the group phase and losing to Nigeria 1-0 in the semifinals.