Nigeria will have every right to think about winning the title.
On the day, you could tell the Nigerians were in town.
In certain locations of Cairo, the bleating blast of saxophones – a familiar calling card of Super Eagles supporters - was distinct as the invading green and white army tuned up for the second quarter-final match between Nigeria and South Africa at Cairo International Stadium on Wednesday night.
The press centre at the stadium, previously dominated by Egyptian journalists, was taken over by the loud Nigerians.
And you have got to give it to the country that gave us such famous writers as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Part of their contingent had copies of a magazine produced by the Nigeria Football Federation with the cover story titled: “We Are in Egypt to Fight For The Trophy: Podium masters Nigeria back for the first time after 2013 triumph”, that they distributed to anybody who wanted a read.
After their group stay in Alexandria, they re-announced their fight for the title in Cairo in emphatic fashion.
Off the pitch, the attendance was easily the best the tournament has seen outside of matches involving Egypt. The majority of the spectators were travelling Nigerian fans, from home and neighbouring countries and those based in Egypt, mainly students.
But interestingly, Egyptian spectators who attended the match loudly joined their Nigerian counterparts leaving the very small South African support an isolated lot.
The local fans probably got behind the Super Eagles to get back at Bafana Bafana that eliminated the host nation from the tournament at the round of 16 stage four days earlier.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr had another explanation.
“It was wonderful to see the Egyptian crowd get behind us. We had good relations with the people in Alexandria. We like to play positive, good football; one-touch football if possible and I think the crowd likes that and appreciates it,” said the German coach after the match.
On the pitch, after a slow start the Super Eagles gradually asserted their authority with Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi bossing the midfield and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi linking up well with Eagles’ outstanding wing men Ahmed Musa on the left and Villarreal’s 20-year-old rising star Samuel Chukwueze on the right.
The tricky Chukwueze, given a starting role by Rohr did not disappoint, troubling Bafana Bafana all evening. Inevitably, he scored Nigeria’s opener after a neat interplay between Musa and Iwobi on the right flank set up the youngster inside the box. He planted the ball home on his second attempt.
Chukwueze, named man-of-the-match, then came close again twice in a first half that Nigeria looked well in control. But they were made to sweat over their inability to finish off South Africa midway through the second half when Bongani Zulu headed home from a free kick and VAR, used in this tournament for the first time, confirmed he was on side.
Defender William Ekong pushed the ball home from a corner to break South Africans' hearts five minutes from time in match that exhibited quality football in bits and pieces but never really fired up.
A large Nigerian government delegation led by Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila and Governor of Central Bank Godwin Emefiele, met the team within the stadium after the match and announced hefty rewards for their progress thus far.
Nigeria will have every right to think about winning the title. But another sterner test looms tomorrow, on Sunday when they face either Algeria in the semi-finals.
Credit: Daily Nation Kenya