Nigeria came back from three goals down to defeat Morocco 4-3 after extra time in a thrilling CAF African Nations Championship quarterfinal at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday evening.
Trailing 3-0 at halftime after suffering at the hands of the Atlas Lions’ rapier-like attacks, the Super Eagles looked to be dead and buried.
However, they produced a spirited fightback to take the game to extra time at 3-3 before substitute Aliyu Ibrahim took advantage of a goalkeeping error to score the winner on 111 minutes.
Morocco very nearly claimed the lead in just the first minute of the match, with Mouhssine Iajour presented with a shooting chance on the right of the penalty area, but his low effort was well saved by goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim.
In the 15th minute Abdelkbir El Ouadi latched onto a great pass inside the Nigerian penalty area, but he saw his shot well blocked by Erhun Obanor.
Nigeria gradually began to assert themselves as an attacking threat and by the midway point of the first half they were unlucky not to force an opener in a goalmouth scramble.
On 28 minutes Mouhcine Iajour flashed a left-footed shot just wide of the target, and it took just another five minutes for the Atlas Lions to go ahead, with Mohsine Moutaouali providing a beautiful chipped finish over the goalkeeper after a breakout from midfield.
Gbolahan Salami had a great chance to equalise three minutes later, but fired his shot wide of the near post after slipping past a couple of Morocco’s defenders.
On 37 minutes Iajour made it 2-0 with a superb strike direct from a free kick just outside the penalty area, beating Agbim’s right hand with a dipping, curling shot into the bottom corner of the net.
And just three minutes later El Ouadi teed up Moutaouali, who drilled home a low shot to make it 3-0 and complete a remarkable transformation of the match that effectively sealed victory for Morocco.
Nigeria pulled a goal back early in the second half through Ugonna Uzochukwu, who controlled a pass on his chest before sending a top-poked volley into the bottom corner of Nadir Lamyarghri’s net.
On 56 minutes the Super Eagles reduced the deficit to 3-2 through Rabiu Ali, who latched onto a knock-down and fired home a shot from just inside the penalty area.
The momentum was all with Nigeria from that point, but they had to wait until the 90th minute to finally equalise, with Ejike Uzoenyi cracking a shot into the goal via the underside of the crossbar to send the match into extra time.
Both sides showed a refreshing willingness to attack in the extra half hour and Nigeria were rewarded with their fourth goal on 111 minutes. Morocco ‘keeper Lamyarghri fumbled a cross and allowed substitute Aliyu Ibrahim to easily find the decisive goal.
Morocco (3) (3) 3 (Moutaouali 33’ 40’, Iajour 37’)
Nigeria (0) (3) 4 (Uzochukwu 49’, Ali 56’, Uzoenyi 90’, Ibrahim 111’)
Morocco: Lamyarghri, El Ouadi, El Hachimi, Karrouchi, Erraki, Abarhoun, Oulhaj, Rafik, Said (Achchakir 58’), Iajour, Moutaouali (El Bahri 76’)
Nigeria: Agbim, Egwuekwe, Esieme, Obanor, Kunle, Ali, Shehu (Umar 113’), Uzochukwu, Ifeanyi (Ibrahim 64’), Uzoenyi, Salami (Imenger 50’)