Nigeria reached the finals of the 4th African Nations Championship on Sunday after the Super Eagles B battled to a 0-0 draw with the Etalons of Burkina Faso in their final qualifying match in Ouagadougou.
The result sent the Eagles, 2014 bronze medallists, through to the finals in Rwanda on a 2-0 aggregate, thanks to goals by Bature Yaro and Gbolahan Salami in the first leg in Port Harcourt eight days earlier.
Assistant Coaches Salisu Yusuf and Jean-Francois Luscuito, taking charge in the absence of ill Sunday Oliseh, started the same squad as in Port Harcourt, and the team stood firm against attempted early onslaughts by the home team.
Libyan referee Mohamed Ragab Omara flashed Nigerian defender Kalu Orji his yellow card as early as the 5th minute, but the lively Ezekiel Bassey also kept the Burkinabes busy at the other end with his runs. In the 20th minute, Omara adjudged Nigerian defender Austin Oboroakpo to have handled in the box, but the penalty was blazed over the bar.
Aziz Ouedraogo, Fabrice Sangare, Mohamed Sylla and Romaric Pitroipa all tried to unsettle the Nigerian defence, but Jamiu Alimi, Oboroakpo, Kalu, Chima Akas and goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa stood firm, as Paul Onobi and Bature Yaro kept things tight in the midfield.
The second half was not much different from the first, as the Eagles took all that was thrown at them bravely and gave enough as well. Chisom Chikatara, who fluffed a hat –trick of chances in Port Harcourt, failed to connect a pull out by Ezekiel Bassey as the minutes ticked away.
At the final whistle, the forlorn, dejected figure of Etalons’ Coach, Idrissa Traore (who had boasted that his team would cancel the Eagles’ two goals within the first half hour), contrasted sharply with the celebrating Nigerian fans.
Nigeria’s leader of delegation, Shehu Dikko, who had charged the players in the dressing room before the match to make their domestic League colleagues and the generality of Nigerians proud, and also play their hearts out for recuperating Oliseh, was excited: “It was a tough game, but I’m happy our boys withstood everything thrown at them to qualify. The NFF is proud of the team’s display and the discipline exhibited.”
The Nigeria Ambassador to Burkina Faso, His Excellency David Bala, who hosted the Eagles to a dinner on Saturday and to lunch on Sunday, said: “I am delighted. The boys made the country proud. This is a battle they have won so bravely.”