China based forward Odion Ighalo picked up from where he left off on Saturday when his well-taken brace inspired Nigeria’s Super Eagles to a 3-2 win over Libya in an Africa Cup of Nations Group E match decided at the Stade Taiieb Mhri in Sfax, Tunisia on Tuesday night.
Ighalo tapped home in the fourteenth minute to give Nigeria the lead before he turned provider for captain Ahmed Musa who doubled the Eagles lead three minutes later. The Libyans halved the deficit ten minutes before the break through Noureddine Zaebiaa’s header while petite midfielder Ben Ali equalised sixteen minutes from time. Ighalo however produced a moment of brilliance with nine minutes left on the clock to give Nigeria maximum points and send them top of the Group.
Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr retained the same starting lineup that tore the Libyans apart in Uyo on Saturday with the exception of the injured Abdullahi Shehu who was replaced by Torino’s Ola Aina. The Libyans also made changes of their own including the replacement of goalkeeper Mohammed Nashnoush with Ahmed Azzaqeh.
After an error-strewn opening ten minutes, Ighalo improvised to get the game’s first attempt on target on the tenth minute when his weak effort on the turn was gathered by Azzaqeh but he did not have to wait too long before getting the game’s curtain raiser.
The move started with Musa exchanging passes with Arsenal star Alex Iwobi; the playmaker returned an exquisite pass for his captain who teed up Ighalo to finish with the simplest of tap-ins.
The ovation that greeted the goal from Ighalo had hardly died down when Nigeria doubled their advantage. Left back Jamilu Collins released Ighalo from the deep, a pass which caught the Libyan defence unawares. The Number 9 took his time to wait for Musa, squaring for the former Leicester man who courageously wriggled past three defenders before bundling the ball home for Nigeria’s second.
Nigeria goalkeeper Francis Uzoho was not in his most composed element on the night and his decision to punch a cross instead of claiming same almost brought the Libyans back into it. He however made amends for his indiscretion by denying Noureddine Zaebiaa at the near post.
The Elche goalkeeper could however not deny the Al Ittihad striker a second time as he powered home a header in the 35th minute. Zaabiaa’s strike partner Anis Mohammed Saltou flicked a deep free kick by Sand Saud across the face of goal, leaving the Number 7 to head home from an acute angle.
Uzoho was again, almost embarrassed shortly before the interval when Saud’s innocuous long range shot slipped through his arms although he recovered in good time to prevent Saltou from charging home.
The Libyans started the second half truly like a side hoping to avoid successive defeats in days but they met a stumbling block in Uzoho who momentarily stood between the Mediterranean Knights and an equaliser.
Although he made a worse possible start to the half – getting booked just after the restart for perceived time wasting – the 19-year old produced an astounding save in the 53rd minute to tip Mohammed Abdussalam’s effort over the bar. Six minutes later, he then made a better save from point blank range to deny Fahim Ben Ali.
The North Africans were without many of their fans in their adopted home ground in Tunisia but were not without motivation as they pressed for the equalising goal which eventually came in the 74th minute through Ben Ali. The unique midfielder lashed home a rebound after Uzoho pushed out Sand Masaud’s cross onto his path.
While it looked as though honours would be shared, Ighalo had the last laugh when he picked up Musa’s knock down, skillfully decisioned two centre backs before slotting home beyond Azaqqeh.
81' GOAL! Libya 2-3 Nigeria
The forward produces a sublime finish after slicing past two defenders with a sublime piece of skill.
— ACLSports (@acl_sports) October 16, 2018
There was still enough time for Henry Onyekuru to fire wide at the death but midfielder Wilfred Ndidi’s late booking means he will miss Nigeria’s next Group E match against South Africa next month.
The win though was enough to take the Super Eagles to the summit of the group after South Africa were held to a 0-0 draw by Seychelles at the Mahe Islands earlier on Tuesday. The Eagles now virtually need just one more point to secure qualification for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
Francis Uzoho, Leon Balogun, William Ekong, Ola Aina, Jamilu Collins, Oghenekharo Etebo (John Ogu 75′) Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi (Semi Ajayi 90+3), Ahmed Musa, Samuel Kalu (Henry Onyekuru 80′), Odion Ikhalo
Unused Subs: Ezenwa, Iheanacho, Idowu, Success