Cape Town – Nigeria came back from a three goal first half deficit to beat Morocco 4-3 in a thrilling African Nations Championship quarter-final clash at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday evening.
The opening 15 minutes saw the north African side the more fluent team in attack, looking dangerous every time the likes of Iajour Mouhssine and Abdelkbir El Quadi were on the ball.
Within the very first minute there was a chance for Mouhssine as ran onto a through ball, his parting shot at the near post forcing Nigeria shot stopper Chigozie Agbim into a smart stop.
But as the game reached the 20 minute mark, the Super Eagles began to ask more questions of the Moroccan defence, goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri doing well to steal the ball off the head of Ifeanyi Ede as the west African side looked to try the more direct, aerial route.
But the Atlas Lions were to take a deserved lead on 33 minutes when Mohsine Moutaouali ran into space in the box before sending a delightful chip over Agbim.
Four minutes later and the Moroccans extended their lead to two when Iajour Mouhssine, who had been troubling the Super Eagles defence all afternoon with his pace and movement, curled a superb left-footed free kick into goal.
The north African side were hungry for more and with 40 minutes gone it was 3-0 as Moutaouali was set up by Abdelkbir El Quadi before picking out the bottom corner of the net with an crisp low strike from 18-yards.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi must have had some stern words with his men at the half-time break, because the Super Eagles looked a different side after the restart, pulling two goals back in 10 minutes.
The first was struck by Ugonna Uzochukwu, who latched on to a loose ball just outside the box, sending a half-volley past Lamyaghri after 49 minutes.
Five minutes later and the Nigerians were right back in it when Rabiu Ali fired home a low shot right into the bottom corner, having been teed up by Barnabas Imenger.
The goalmouth action continued unabated as both sides beat the opposition defence with ease.
Agbim made a breathtaking 62nd minute save to keep out Abdessamad Rafik, who looked odds on to score with a close range header while at the other end Abubaker Ibrahim should have done better than to curl a shot from inside the box over the bar.
The frenetic pace continued right with both sides always looking like getting another goal, but with Morocco edging through to the full time whistle, Nigerian midfielder Christianus Ejike picked the ball up in the middle of the park before unleashing an unstoppable 30-yard rocket of a shot which struck the underside of the bar before going into the net, sending the match into extra time.
The action picked up where it left off, with half chances coming on regular basis before Alio wasted a fantastic opportunity in the 100th minute when he headed wide from right in front of goal after a pin-point cross from Ejike.
At the other end, Mouhssine should also have found the net, but got his near-post finish all wrong after an inviting cross from the left.
The deadlock was finally broken nine minutes before the end of extra time, Morocco goalkeeper Lamyaghri failing to hold onto a simple cross by Ejike, which allowed Ibrahim to pounce from close range for the winner. – Sapa