It’s time to deliver: Ekong, Bassey dream AFCON title


By: Johnny Edward

Super Eagles captain, William Troost-Ekong, says lifting the Africa Cup of Nations trophy would be an “amazing” moment for him and the country and says it will be time to deliver on Sunday when the three-time African champions battle hosts Ivory Coast in the final.

Nigeria beat South Africa 4-2 on penalties after full and extra time ended in a 1-1 stalemate to book a spot in the final in Abidjan.

Troost-Ekong put Nigeria in the lead from the penalty spot in the 67th minute before South Africa earned a spot-kick of their own in the 90th minute, which was converted by Teboho Mokoena.

The Eagles had goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali to thank after the Chippa United shot-stopper saved two penalties, denying Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa during the shootout to guide Nigeria to victory.

Terem Moffi, Kenneth Omeruo, Troost-Ekong and Kelechi Iheanacho all scored, while Ola Aina missed his kick.

Troost-Ekong’s goal against Bafana Bafana took his tally to four in 15 games at the tournament, equaling a 32-year-old goal record for a Nigerian defender held by the legendary Stephen Keshi, who scored four goals in 16 AFCON games.

The win sent Nigeria into their first AFCON final since 2013, when they lifted the title for a third time in South Africa after defeating Burkina Faso by a lone goal in the final.

“You dream about moments like that,” Ekong told BBC.

“I’ve seen it so many times. And I’ve closed my eyes. To be there on Sunday and have the chance to do that will be amazing.”

Making his third appearance at the AFCON tournament in Ivory Coast, having featured at the 2019 edition in Egypt and the 2022 tournament in Cameroon, Ekong will be aiming to join the elite list of Nigerian defenders like Christian Chukwu, Keshi and Joseph Yobo to have lifted the AFCON trophy for Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Ekong’s defensive partner Calvin Bassey says the Eagles need to keep believing in themselves ahead of the final clash, adding that the squad showed great character and mentality on Wednesday to reach the Africa Cup of Nations final.

Bassey, who is one of the eight AFCON debutants in the Eagles squad, has been impressive at the tournament since Eagles coach, Jose Peseiro, switched to a back three during the team’s second game against Ivory Coast.

The Fulham defender praised his teammate’s effort for grinding out another hard-fought win via penalties.

The Eagles are so far unbeaten at the tournament having recorded five wins against Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Angola and South Africa and a draw against Equatorial Guinea.

“This was a hard one. I think we showed real character,” Bassey told BBC.

“It just shows we could do the dirty work. We just had to keep believing in ourselves.

“(South Africa were) a well-organised team, a quality team. To outdo them on penalties, it’s crazy.

“Kudos to all the boys that stood up to take a penalty kicks. It’s not easy to go out there with the pressure and they kept calm.”
 Peseiro, who took over the reigns as Eagles coach in 2022, insists his dream of winning the AFCON is still alive.

“When I signed the contract, I said I want to win the AFCON,” Peseiro said.

“Either way, I don’t know if everybody believed or not. I have believed since the first moment though we haven’t won nothing until now — we want to win the AFCON.

“The players deserve to be in the finals, it’s a very good victory against a good team.”

Should Peseiro go on to win the AFCON for Nigeria on Sunday, the Portuguese will become the third foreigner to win the continental title for Nigeria after Otto Gloria in 1980 and Clemens Westerhof in 1994.

The 2023 AFCON is broadcast live in Nigeria by Pay-TV firm StarTimes Nigeria.