Victor Osimhen scored twice to power the Super Eagles to a 3-2 win over Sierra Leone at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium in Monrovia, Liberia, sealing Nigeria’s place at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with a game to spare.
Osimhen scored twice in the opening half, but Sierra Leone staged a second-half comeback before Kelechi Iheanacho came off the bench to net the winning goal for Nigeria.
How it happened
Head coach Jose Peseiro handed goalkeeper Adebayo Adeleye his Super Eagles debut but a lot of the early action was on the other end of the pitch.
Osimhen came close to scoring within the opening 15 minutes, connecting beautifully with a well-drilled cross from Moses Simon. However, his header was brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Ibrahim Sesay.
Shortly after that, Osimhen broke the deadlock, granting the Super Eagles an early advantage. The Italian Serie A’s most valuable player in history raced to an Omeruo-headed clearance and expertly placed his finish over the goalkeeper.
Osimhen’s opening goal was the first time the Napoli striker scored for the Super Eagles since June 2022 (when he scored four goals against Sao Tome and Principe).
Nigeria should have doubled their lead before the half-hour mark, with Osimhen again involved. The 24-year-old striker outsmarted two Leone Stars defenders before providing a square pass to Chukwueze.
With ample time to steady himself, the Villarreal forward fired a firm shot, but Sesay made an impressive stop to deny him.
But the Super Eagles could not be denied as Osimhen found the back of the net in the 32nd minute to double Nigeria’s lead.
With his two goals, Osimhen now leads the AFCON qualification goals chart with seven strikes, surpassing Sadio Mane of Senegal, who has scored five goals. The Scudetto winner has now accumulated 17 international goals, surpassing Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa, who both have 16 goals, and joining Samson Siasia in joint-sixth position on Nigeria’s all-time scoring chart.
The Super Eagles kept on the front foot as Osimhen, Simon, and Chukwueze orchestrated a brilliant combination within the opposition’s danger area, with Chukwueze ultimately applying the final touch. Unfortunately, the effort was disallowed for offside.
Nigeria continued to exploit the spaces left behind by the Sierra Leoneans, as Osimhen broke free on the left side and provided a square pass to Simon.
However, Simon’s shot was deflected behind for a corner kick.
Nevertheless, four minutes before halftime, Mustapha Bundu halved the deficit for the Leone Stars. Accelerating onto a through-ball, Bundu outpaced Omeruo before unleashing a well-placed shot, denying Adeleye a clean sheet on his debut.
Wilfred Ndidi had the last chance of the half for the Eagles, but he blasted his shot wide over the post from just inside the area.
Sierra Leone returned from the half-time break on the high, pinning Nigeria back in their own half. But Simon and Osimhen continued to offer the Super Eagles an attacking threat on the counter.
Sierra Leone came close to equalising for 2-2, but Nigeria goalkeeper Adeleye reacted quickly to push the ball away.
The Israeli-based shot-stopper was also on hand to pluck the ball out of the air in the 64th minute to stop a goal-mouth scramble.
Sierra Leone got their equaliser with a few minutes on the clock as Bundu struck a fierce drive into the bottom left corner from outside the box.
Adeleye made a couple of saves late on to deny the Leone Stars a winner.
But Iheanacho popped up at the end of a Zaidu Sanusi cross to slot home Nigeria’s winning goal with the last kick of the encounter.
With the win, the Super Eagles return to the top of Group A with 12 points from five games. The three-time Africa champions are through to the 2023 Afcon despite having to play their last match on home soil against Sao Tome and Principe.