Much maligned for his poor goalscoring return in the green-and-white colours, the prolific Genk forward saved his country’s blushes and emerged the hero in a brilliant cameo performance
Nigeria missed a truckload of chances at the Charles de Gaulle Stadium in Porto Novo, but Paul Onuachu’s late strike inspired the Super Eagles to a deserved 1-0 victory over the Benin Republic.
Gernot Rohr left Alex Iwobi out of the starting eleven after the Everton midfielder tested positive for COVID-19, with team captain Ahmed Musa taking his place on the bench.
Still, the Super Eagles dominated proceedings from kickoff and could have been three goals up in the opening ten minutes, but Osimhen and Iheanacho failed to capitalise on decent chances.
Osimhen had the opportunity to break the deadlock in the 24th minute, but the Napoli man could only direct his effort straight at the opposing goalie.
Moments later, Onyekuru dazzled his way into the area, but the hosts’ defenders did well to clear the danger for a corner-kick.
Iheanacho then sent an effort over the bar after Onyekuru set him up with a brilliant pass before the Beninoise goalkeeper came to his side’s rescue when Osimhen was poised to strike.
And just before the referee brought an end to proceedings in the opening period, Onyekuru agonisingly watched his header parried to safety by the goalkeeper.
The Super Eagles picked off where they left off in the second half, with both Chukwueze and Osimhen fluffing early chances to open the scoring.
The best chance of the much at that point arrived in the 56th minute when Osimhen beat the goalkeeper with his low shot but saw his drive hit the upright, only for Zaidu to blast the rebound over the bar.
Head coach Gernot Rohr sensed the need for a composed finisher in the Eagles attack and sent on Genk’s Paul Onuachu for Iheanacho with twenty minutes left on the clock.
A beautiful moment for the Nigeria Professional Football League arrived in the 80th minute when Enyimba’s Anayo Iwuala was introduced for Galatasaray’s Onyekuru.
And it was Onuachu who popped up with a clinical finish in the third minute of injury time to hand Benin their first defeat on home soil in eight years.
The victory lifts Nigeria to eleven points in Group L, four ahead of Saturday’s losers, securing the top spot in the process.
The Super Eagles earlier secured their place at Cameroon 2022 before the game in Porto Novo started after Sierra Leone and Lesotho played out a goalless draw in the other group game.