In the finals of the African Nations Championship (CHAN), the Super Eagles face the Atlas Lions of Morocco at the Stade Mohamed V in Casablanca.
Still there remains the feel that the Super Eagles have not truly soared in the CHAN tournament, merely ambling, doing just enough to get into the next stage. It is bizarre that a team in the final of a 16-team tournament still needs to convince most of its merits, but it is the extant reality of the Super Eagles.
The opening day draw against Rwanda set the tone, an underwhelming display replete with wasted efforts. The following games have had steady improvements but not exactly in a greatly appreciable bit. The team has not thrilled, neither have they left fans excited nor purring. Perhaps the 3-1 win against Equatorial Guinea is an outlier. It’s been either heart in mouth, frustrating or a tense experience following the Super Eagles in Morocco. Notwithstanding, the team has shown its tough spirit, resilience and sheer will power to get over the line despite the considerable adversities against them.
In the final against the Moroccans who have been impressive in the tournament, the Super Eagles will need large swathes of those traits. Jamal Sellami’s side have been the prolific in front of goal with 12 goals in the tournament and have the fans behind them as the hosts. It could be a gruelling night for the Super Eagles and it just might be the character test that finally earns them the respect they deserve from all.
The defence has been solid with Stephen Eze marshaling the backline but will be faced with their greatest test yet. Ayoub El Kaabi with eight goals in five matches will certainly test the resolve of the pairing of Eze and Kalu Orji Okagbue. Goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel James will be missing from the defensive unit but their replacements have been impressive if not better than the starters.
In attack, Anthony Okpotu, perhaps short of admirers due to his profligacy but the striker after every missed chance doesn’t blanch, doesn’t wilt but continues to offer himself in attack. He should have more than two goals in the tournament but his equalisers against Equatorial Guinea and Angola set the team on the way to important victories that qualified Nigeria for the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. Okpotu alongside Gabriel Okechukwu will be poised to breach the Moroccan defence that has conceded just two goals in the tournament.
Gabriel Okechukwu the team’s joint highest goal scorer, whose emergence has been due to Sunday Faleye’s injury has also proved an inspired and fitting substitute for the former 3SC winger. Okechukwu conjured a beaut in the extra time against Angola in the quarter-finals and coolly finished through on goal against Sudan.
The Super Eagles seem to thrive best under adversity; the final game is the perfect stage to finally convince detractors of their merit