Three goals from Odion Ighalo and a curling strike from Samuel Kalu led the Super Eagles to a comprehensive four-goal win over Libya at the Godswill International Stadium, Uyo in their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match.
It didn’t take long before the Super Eagles asserted their dominance in front of the bouncy home fans. Libyan goalkeeper, Mohamed Al Ouhichi was culpable for the first goal when he tried to do too much on the ball and subsequently lost the ball to Changchun Yatai’s Ighalo. Al Ouhichi tugged down Ighalo for the referee to whistle for a penalty. The striker, who scored a penalty in the Super Eagles’ last qualifier against Seychelles, stepped up to score Nigeria’s opener from the spot; drilling a low shot to the goalkeeper’s right.
Nigeria had another penalty shout in the 10th minute but the referee wasn’t bothered as he waved the game on. Ighalo was involved again, this time trying to dribble Al Ouhichi. The former Watford striker latched on to a brilliant pass over the defence, tried to play the ball on the outside of the goalkeeper while he ran on the opposite side of the ball hoping to get to the ball behind his opponent . Al Ouhichi closed him down and Ighalo went tumbling on the turf.
With Ogenyi Onazi ruled out of the game due to injury, Gernot Rohr replaced the Trabzonspor midfielder with Oghenekaro Etebo in the starting line-up. The Stoke City midfielder started in the pivot in front of the defence alongside Wilfred Ndidi. Jamilu Collins also got his debut at left back with Bryan Idowu out of the matchday squad.
Etebo was quick to join the attack as Nigeria won a set-piece in the 11th minute, the midfielder’s headed attempt was inches away from extending the Super Eagles’ lead as it struck the upright.
Collins was quick up and down the flanks as he offered width and was hardly caught out. The Padeborn full back could have celebrated a debut goal but his strike from an acute angle after he was intelligently played through by Alex Iwobi in the left hand channel struck the upright. Iwobi’s pass in the closing stages on the first half was the only remarkable action from the Arsenal midfielder as Gernot Rohr opted to play him in his preferred central role. Iwobi played on the periphery of the half, unable to influence the game from the central role he was handed.
The largely limited Libyans started the second half much purposeful exploiting pockets behind the pivot in front of the defence and getting into threatening positions, however, the Mediterrenean Knights couldn’t fashion a telling chance.
Nigeria reasserted themselves with Ighalo’s goal in the 58th minute. Iwobi produced another remarkable moment with a perfectly weighted pass behind the defence to put Ighalo through on goal. The striker wouldn’t err this time taking time to round the goalkeeper before he slotted into the net for his second goal.
The third goal had a stroke of good fortune, Ighalo getting a second chance to squeeze his shot into the net with the goalkeeper and a number of defenders on the goal line. Ahmed Musa’s cross was instrumental, as well as Ahmed Eltarbi’s gaffe. Musa’s cross from the far left was in the sight of the defender in the box but surprisingly, Eltarbi couldn’t defend the cross as it reached Ighalo at the far post. Perhaps, because he thought the defender would cut out the cross, Ighalo was unprepared as the ball got to him, his legs getting into a tangle as he shuffled to get a strike out of the ball between his legs. Eventually he got the shot but it was blocked by a defender but fortunately, the ball rebounded to Ighalo to have a second bite at the cherry which he didn’t miss.
Kalu, who was guilty of overplaying, scored the best goal of the game in the final minute of regular time. His sizzling strike from outside the box was the punctuation require in a crucial victory to make gains in the race for the 2019 AFCON in Cameroon.
The win sees the Super Eagles climb to second in their AFCON qualifying group. Nigeria will play their next match against Libya in Sfax, Tunisia on October 16.