Akpeyi sets sight on bronze medal match against Tunisia
After falling 1-2 to the Desert Foxes of Algeria in Sunday’s semifinal match at the Cairo International Stadium, Super Eagles goalkeeper, Daniel Akpeyi looks desperately in search of a bronze medal to show for the team’s performance in Egypt 2019 African Cup of Nations.
Nineteen years ago, when Egypt hosted the 2006 edition of the African Nations Cup, the Super Eagles led then by Coach Austin Eguavoen ended their campaign in the semifinal by losing 0-1 to the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in Alexandria. And in 2013, when the Super Eagles, under coach Stephen Keshi won the trophy in South Africa, Akpeyi was not part of the victory dance. He was part of the preparations but was dropped on the eve of the tournament.
His dream of winning silverware here in Egypt seems to be slipping away, following the defeat to Algeria on Sunday, but Akpeyi is still hopeful.
Speaking with The Guardian shortly after the defeat to Algeria, Akpeyi said: “It was a sad defeat, but we must shake it off and face the challenges ahead. I don’t want to leave Egypt empty-handed. We have to channel our focus and energy into the third-place match against Tunisia.
“I know that many Nigerians will feel bad over this defeat to Algeria, but I want them to realize that this is football. You win some and lose some. We put everything into this match hoping to overcome the Algerians until that goal from a free-kick came in the dying minute. We have to move on. We may be lucky in the third-place match against Tunisia.
“Other teams left earlier, but I don’t want to go home empty-handed from Egypt,” Akpeyi stated.
Manchester City winger, Riyad Mahrez scored a late winner from free-kick for the rampaging Desert Foxes of Algeria to reach their first AFCON final in 29 years.
The Algerians were gifted a free-kick on the edge of the box by Wilfred Ndidi, and as expectation tilted towards extra time, Mahrez curled his kick beyond the reach of Akpeyi to end Super Eagles’ fourth AFCON title quest here in Egypt. The Algerian pair of Belaili and Baghdad Bounedjah kept the Super Eagles defence line under constant pressure as the Foxes’ pace threatened Eagles’ rear time and again.
The Algerians could have scored earlier in the first half, but for Akpeyi’s brilliant save in the 28th minutes when he stopped a close-range strike from Belaili, who outpaced defender Kenneth Omeruo to create the chance.
Some Nigerians at the Cairo International Stadium called for the head of Villarreal FC attacker, Samuel Chukwueze for his poor contribution, especially from the right-wing. Though, some people felt Chukwueze did his best.
Some of the fans were not impressed with the performance of defender Jamilu Collins. His poor approach to Riyadh Mahrez’s move in the Eagles defense led to Algerians first goal in the 41 minutes. Instead of close marking Mahrez head-on as a defender, Collins barely escorted the Algerian into his defense, watched him to cross the ball, which William Troost-Ekong diverted into his own net. But the Super Eagles raised their game in the second half and were back on level terms on 71 minutes when Ighalo scored from the penalty after the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) confirmed an Algerian defender handled the ball inside the box.
It was Ighalo’s fourth goal in the tournament, but Mahrez struck the winner for Algeria on the dot of the four minutes added time for stoppages.
The Super Eagles will face Tunisia for the third-place match on Wednesday, while Algeria faces Senegal in the AFCON 2019 final on July 19.
For Akpeyi, winning the bronze medal fight against Tunisia will require more determination from all the players.
He said: “I am sure the Tunisians are looking forward to winning the third-place match as well. So, we have to put in more effort and determination in the game on Wednesday. I thank all Nigerians for standing by the team from the beginning of the competition till now. But I want to plead with them to still give us the support ahead of the third-place match against Tunisia.”
Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Algeria was Akpeyi’s first defeat in the competition. He kept four matches for the Super Eagles, which Nigeria won. He was in action in the first game against Burundi, and the team triumph 1-0 in Alexandria. Akpeyi was also in goal in the second group match against the Syli Nationale of Guinea, which Nigeria won 1-0 to pick a ticket to the round of 16.
He was rested in the last group match against debutant, Madagascar, where Nigeria suffered a 2-0 defeat. The former Warri Wolves goalkeeper, Akpeyi returned to action in the round of 16 matches against defending champions, Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and Nigeria won 3-2 to hit the quarterfinal. He was called to duty in the quarterfinal cracker against a resilient Bafana Bafana of South Africa, which the Super Eagles won 2-1 to hit the semifinal.