Afcon 2023: ‘Fighting spirit will make us champions,’ says Nigeria captain William Troost-Ekong

Nigeria captain William Troost-Ekong believes his team’s “fighting spirit” will make them Africa Cup of Nations champions for a fourth time.

The Super Eagles booked a place in the semi-finals in Ivory Coast by beating Angola 1-0 on Friday.

“I believe in the mentality of this team, the fighting spirit and that’s the thing that’s going to make us champions,” Troost-Ekong said.

They next play on Wednesday against Cape Verde or South Africa.

It is 11 years since Nigeria last won Afcon, having previously lifted the title in 1980 and 1994 – and they were pushed all the way by an Angola side reaching the last eight for only the third time.

“It wasn’t the most beautiful game – I think we have to give credit to Angola as well,” added the 30-year-old centre-back.

“We made it a little bit difficult for ourselves at some moments. We need to be better when we are in possession and we gave away the ball too many times.

“You always try to score the second goal to try and kill the game. But, at the same time, you can’t take too much risk to let them back in it.

“So, a lot to be learned from today. Our confidence is growing game by game, we are still creating a lot and the fighting spirit has given me confidence.”

Atalanta forward Ademola Lookman scored Nigeria’s winner against Angola to make it three goals in his past two matches, having netted both Super Eagles goals in the last-16 victory over Cameroon.

“I feel the pressure wearing this shirt,” the 26-year-old said.

“Every single time I put on the jersey, that’s just what comes with being a Nigerian and playing for the country, so I’m proud to do that, to take that responsibility.”

Nigeria ‘not done yet – we came here to win’

Napoli star striker Victor Osimhen, the African Footballer of the Year, had a goal ruled out for offside against Angola and, despite being praised for his performances, has scored only once at this Afcon.

It is the defensive qualities of this Nigeria side which are gaining plaudits and defensive midfielder Semi Ajayi says this Nations Cup run is not about individuals.

“I think the beauty of this team is that we’ve got so many weapons,” the West Bromwich Albion player, 30, said.

“You can’t really put all your attention on one person because we have so many people who are capable of creating and scoring.

“We’re not done yet. We’ve still got another game on Wednesday, and hopefully another game on Sunday.

“We came here to win, so full focus goes towards Wednesday now,” Ajayi added.

‘Happiness of our people more than a title’

Angola have been one of the surprise packages at Afcon 2023 and topped a group which included former winners Algeria.

Angola captain Fredy in action at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations
Angola captain Fredy plays for Turkish club Eyupspor after stints plying his trade in Portugal and the Netherlands

They thrilled crowds in Ivory Coast with their attacking displays, leaving captain Fredy to reflect on a fantastic couple of weeks for the southern African nation.

“Nobody expected anything of us, and yet here we were in the quarter-finals, against one of the best teams, and they showed big respect to us,” the 33-year-old told BBC Sport Africa, explaining what the run has meant to his country.

“You know, it’s not only about the title – but also everyone in our country is proud of us.

“The football can move everything in the world for me. And the situation in our country is not easy, but the happiness the people have for us – this is more than a title.”

Angola coach Pedro Goncalves led Angola to three wins at the 2023 Nations Cup – the first time the Palancas Negras have registered more than one victory at the finals.

But the 47-year-old Portuguese says his future with the team is now uncertain.

“My mission is done. I finished, ended my mission, ended my contract,” Goncalves told BBC Sport Africa.

“I don’t know what the board will say in the morning and I don’t know what my decision will be too, but we have time to think about that.

“Angola is a country with immeasurable potential, not only in football but sometimes people don’t know very well what we need to do to achieve a high level.

“Now, we see a feeling of satisfaction. The mission is done. And the perspective for the future is absolutely different.”

Source: BBC

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