BY OLAWALE AYENI, Abuja
Nigeria’s Super Eagles have qualified for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and kept up interest in Group L of the qualifiers after defeating hosts Benin Republic 1-0 at the Stade Charles de Gaulle in Porto-Novo yesterday.
The qualification was confirmed before they even kicked-off against the Squirrels, as an earlier 0-0 draw between Lesotho and Sierra Leone in Maseru ensured that the three- time African champions would end in the top two of the group.
The result in Porto-Novo secured by a late winner from Paul Onuachu, ended Benin republic’s 8-year unbeaten home record.
The Squirrels’ fate will now be determined by their final qualifier against Sierra Leone on Tuesday.
Nigeria enjoyed most of the possession in the opening quarter of the game, though they were unable to create any notable chances, with Victor Osimhen struggling to link up with Samuel Chukwueze and Kelechi Iheanacho.
Benin mostly looked to sit back and hit on the break, with their first real threat arriving on 22 minutes when Cebio Soukou let fly from just outside the penalty area but pulled his effort wide of Nigeria’s goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye’s right hand post.
The first half ended 0-0, though Nigeria very nearly broke the deadlock in the final minute before the break with Henry Onyekuru’s header from Iheanacho’s cross brilliantly saved by Allagbe.
The Squirrels made a change in the midfield at the start of the second half, replacing Yohan Roche with Moise Adilehou, though Nigeria almost immediately
created another great chance, from which Chukwueze blazed over at close range.
Just past the hour mark, Super Eagles goalkeeper Okoye was called into significant action for the first time, scrambling across his goal line to turn away a header from Steve Mounie, while just under 10 minutes later the visitors made their first change by introducing Paul Onuachu off the bench in place of Iheanacho.
Onuachu then had the major contribution to the game, scoring deep into injury time. The striker headed home from close range after a goal-mouth scramble following a corner kick, handing Nigeria a dramatic but deserved win.
The teams will wrap up their Group L campaigns on Tuesday, 30 March, with Benin away to Sierra Leone in Freetown and Nigeria at home to Lesotho in Lagos.
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