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THRILLER IN ALEXANDRIA AS NIGERIA AND SOUTH AFRICA THROW AFCON WIDE OPEN

‘Seye Akanmu-Bode

Nigeria and South Africa have thrown wide open the Afcon 2019 as they eliminated the defending champions and the host respectively. Added to this is the fact both the winner and the runners up have been eliminated as Egypt took the silver behind Cameroon in 2017.

For the Super Eagles,it was a thrilling encounter at the Alexandria stadium as a total of five goals were recorded in a match that lived up to its prematch hype.The Indomitable Lions came into the match full of confidence as the team had kept it tight at the back with a clean slate during the group stage.The Super Eagles on the other hand was low in spirit after a down to earth trouncing by Madagascar committed them to second on the group log.However, from the blast of the whistle,the Eagles showed no sign of post -defeat-disorder as they took the game to the Lions.This paid off in the 19th minutes as Odion Ighalo slotted home in the midst of Cameroonian bodies after a pass from Omeruah to give the Eagles the lead. It was as if the Lions needed to conceed to wake up as the goal turned them into wounded Lions ,taking the game to the Eagles and threatening the defence with their wide plays. Their pressure yielded fruit as Stephanie Bahoken jabbed in a cross by Clinton N’jie which levelled the scores at one all.More drama was to follow as the Lions got a second goal within the space of 3 minutes. This time,Bahoken returned the favour as he put N’Jie on goal with a flick after beating Omeruah in an aerial duel. Ola Aina failed to track N’Jie and the latter used his space and strength to shield the former to give his team a 2-1 lead.

Bahoken being sandwiched by Omeruo and Troost-Ekong in the match.

The second half started with the Lions continuing from where they stopped in the first half.However,as time started ticking away,the Eagles grew into the game in search for a way back into the match. This effort brought dividend as Odion Ighalo once again proved himself as the man of the moment when he latched onto a brilliant chest-down pass from Ahmed Musa.With scores at 2-2, the Eagles showed no sign of abeyance as they searched for a winner. Cameroon had come into the game with the tactics of building play from the back.They got into troubles on some occasions but they were lucky as the Eagles failed to capitalise. This time around,the Eagles did. Etebo disposed Mandjeck of the ball in the third half of the cameroonian half and located Ighalo ,Iwobi then created a space for himself in the hole provided by the Cameroonian defence,his composure was master class as he calmly beat goalkeeper Onana to put the Eagles back in the lead. The Cameroonians searched for an equaliser but Nigeria stood firm to maintain the lead and the referee blew his whistle that ended ended the Lions dream of retaining the trophy they had won 2 years ago. For the Eagles,it was another sweet victory against their arch rival as Nigeria continued her dominance over Cameroon since 2004 when we defeated them in the quarter final of the Afcon hosted by Tunisia.

For the Bafana Bafana of South Africa,it was a display of tactical master class engineered by coach Stuart Baxter. The team had generated a lot disaffection from their supporters as they had put up uninspiring displays in the group stage. Two losses and a win took the South African team to the second round to square up against the host Egypt.

Sallah cut a lugubrious mien in the match.

For Egypt, they were looking foward to winning the 4th trophy as host,they had won 3 out of 4 as host.Not that the Egyptian team had been superb in the tournament. The woodwork saved them against Dr Congo and a glut of saves by goalkeeper El-Shenawy saved the Pharaoh’s scalp against Uganda. Statistically, the team wasn’t doing well but like in all cup competitions, results matter most.Being the host and runner up to Cameroon in 2017,many had expected a triumph over a South African team that had not played convincingly in the competition. However, the rainbow nation team had other ideas. They decided to press high ,thereby forcing the Egyptians into countless errors as they opted for long balls when they couldn’t get the balls to their dangerous duo of ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan and Mo Sallah.

The South African tactics worked finally as they got the solitary goal in the 85th through Thembinkosi Lorch who was playing his first match of the Afcon. Thus,the dream of a 4th win as host and an 8th title in all collapsed like a pack of cards at the Cairo international stadium. The Egyptian FA boss and coach Javier Aguirre had since lost their jobs after the defeat.

With this victory, South Africa and Nigeria have both thrown the Afcon wide open as Egypt the host has been knocked out and we are going to see a new champion with the ouster of Cameroon by Nigeria.Though we don’t know who will win trophy yet,what we are however sure of is that one of Nigeria or South Africa won’t win it as they both clash in the quarter final. The last time both teams clashed was in 2000 when as co-host,Nigeria beat South Africa by two unreplied goals in the quarter final. Soccer loving Nigerians would hope for an encore while the South Africans would want to prove that beating Egypt was not a fluke.The Afcon is now getting interesting!

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