Three –time champions Nigeria got their first points of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying race when beating the Pirates of Seychelles 3-0 in Mahé Island on Saturday.
Despite opting not to move out of second gear for most of the game due to the delicate nature of the artificial turf at the Stad Linite, the Super Eagles dominated easily and should have won by a wider margin had Odion Ighalo and Kelechi Iheanacho converted some begging opportunities.
Midfielder Wilfred Ndidi was the first to confirm the Eagles were in for serious business when his 9th minute shot was headed out for a corner, and two minutes later, debutant Samuel Kalu waltzed his way past the home defence only to be thwarted.
Ogenyi Onazi also saw a shot fly over the bar before Ahmed Musa, Nigeria’s star of the FIFA World Cup finals in Russia and captain for the day, let fly a rocket that shook the crossbar before hitting the Seychelles goalkeeper’s back to roll into the net in the 15th minute. The shot came off Musa’s weaker left foot.
Defender Chidozie Awaziem was the unlikely source of the second goal, as he reacted faster than the home defence to blast home after a free –kick by Kelechi Iheanacho saw the ball kiss the upright and bounce across the face of goal. Two minutes later, with only the goalkeeper to beat, Ighalo lifted the ball too high for what should have been Nigeria’s third.
The Pirates started the second half with greater enthusiasm but Leon Balogun marshalled a rearguard that was in no mood to concede. In the 55th minute, the ever –lively Musa lifted the ball and shot again with his weaker left, but the goalkeeper was alert to block for a corner.
Two minutes later, France –based Kalu, who did his Nigerian prospects no harm with a magnificent debut, was upended in the vital area as he went on another breezy run. Ighalo made no mistake from the spot, for Nigeria’s third.
Ighalo came close five minutes later but was foiled from doing the simple tap –in from Kalu’s cut –back. Another brilliant Ahmed Musa move in the 72nd minute ended with him calling out the Pirates’ goalie again, but he missed narrowly. And in the 90th minute, Henry Onyekuru’s header, off a pull out by Oluwasemilogo Ajayi – who also had an impressive debut – went narrowly wide.
Victory gave the Super Eagles three points and wiped out the goal deficit from the loss to South Africa on Matchday 1 (with one goal to spare), and victory over Libya in Kaduna on 13th October would brighten Nigeria’s chances for a place at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals.