President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Alhaji Aminu Maigari on Saturday praised players and officials of Super Eagles Team B for earning Nigeria’s first-ever qualification to play in the finals of the African Nations Championship.
The Eagles took a handsome 4-1 lead into the return leg in Abidjan but it was looking pitiably insufficient after the Ivorians raced to a 2-0 lead before the half-hour at Stade Robert Chambroux.
Kevin Koelly profited from a mistake by defender Azubuike Egwuekwe to shoot the Elephants ahead after only six minutes and doubled the advantage from a penalty kick 20 minutes later as Rabiu Ali tumbled an Ivorian striker in a goalmouth tussle.
But the Nigerians held on for a historic berth and will be at the finals to be staged in the South African cities of Cape Town,
Polokwane and Bloemfontein in January next year.
A joyous Maigari said: “It was never going to be easy, but I was confident the Eagles would pull it through and make Nigeria proud. Of course, there were bound to be so many odds against them, being on away ground.
“To hold steadfast after that opening barrage on away ground is not easy; it takes a team that has strength of character and
determination. I commend the players and their officials for a job well-done.”
Nigeria joins Morocco, which eliminated Cup holders Tunisia, as well as Libya, Ghana, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Uganda and hosts South Africa in the 16-team finals due from January 11 next year.
Maigari added: “You see, all these positives are coming because we now have peace in the football family. Peace is a catalyst for progress. And as I said on Channels Television on Thursday night, the NFF will remain eternally grateful to the Secretary to Federal Government, Distinguished Senator Anyim Pius Anyim (GCON) and the Honourable Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, for brokering the peace.”
Nigeria missed the first two editions of the nascent championship, exclusively for footballers plying their trade in their country’s domestic League.
Ghana shut out the Eagles from the inaugural edition in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009 while the Eagles’ path to Sudan 2011 was barred by Niger Republic.