U23AFCON: Osimhen masterclass sends Nigeria to last round

U23AFCON: Osimhen masterclass sends Nigeria to last round

Striker Victor Osimhen scored a hattrick as Nigeria’s Under-23s produced a masterclass performance to beat Libya 4-0 and advance to the last round of qualifying for the Under 23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) later this year with a 4-2 aggregate score.

Coached by Imama Amapakabo, Nigeria’s Dream Team VII lost the first leg 0-2 in Tunisia five days ago but aided by the reinforcement of the squad with four players from the Super Eagles; including Osimhen, the Nigerians produced a domineering performance to leave their visitors with no chance right from the blast of the whistle at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba on Monday.

Osimhen partnered Taiwo Awoniyi upfront while Chile 2015 starlets Samuel Chukwueze and Orji Okwonkwo played on the flanks with that tournament’s best player Kelechi Nwakali partnering captain Okechukwu Azubuike in midfield.

Nigeria’s early pressure almost paid off in the 14th minute but Awoniyi slid his effort inches wide from close range before Nwakali’s free kick came off the upright three minutes later.

It was the turn of Orji Okwonkwo to aim at goal in the 20th minute but his rebound after Awoniyi was denied by Libyan goalkeeper Murad Alweehi went over the bar. Defender Valentine Ozornwafor and Okwonkwo then had direct efforts straight to Alweehi before Nigeria broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute.

Nwakali took another free kick for Nigeria after Chukwueze was upended. His effort went straight at Alweehi who fumbled it. Osimhen poked home the rebound in an unorthodox manner to give the sizeable amount of fans something to cheer about.

Chukwueze then saw his free kick from an acute angle land on top of the cross bar.

Osimhen could have doubled his and the team’s tally in the 45th minute but his ferocious drive from 20 yards cannoned off the left hand of the goalpost as the Libyans kept a slender one-goal advantage to defend after the break, on aggregate.

Nigeria could easily have added a second in the first minute of second half but Taiwo Awoniyi somehow failed to get a firm header on to Etboy Akpan’s cross; the Royal Mouscron forward heading straight at Alweehi. The tempo of the game dropped drastically after then and no good opportunity was created in the next fifteen minutes.

Nigeria’s second goal would however come in rather fortuitous circumstances in the 66th minute but the fans don’t mind. Ebube Duru on the overlap from the left crossed into the hands of Alweehi but the otherwise impressive goalkeeper let the ball slip from his fingers with Osimhen well placed to score with a toe poked finish.

Nigeria went in front on aggregate for the first time in the tie eight minutes from time in a move that reminisced Nigeria’s conquest of the global stage at Under-17 level in Chile 2015. Nwakali robbed Adel Boualida of possession inside the centre circle and the Porto B midfielder slipped Osimhen through. The striker gleefully finishing beyond Alweehi.

Nigeria added icing to their beautiful cake in the third minute of stoppage time through substitute David Okereke. The Spenzia of Italy forward who had replaced Awoniyi tapped home after Osimhen persisted before sending a back heel to the striker.

The win takes Nigeria through to the final round of qualifying where they will face either Sudan or Kenya in June. The Sudanese won the first leg 2-0 last week and will meet in the second leg on Tuesday in Nairobi.

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