Abuja, Enugu, Oct. 16, 2018
Odion Ighalo on Tuesday scored twice for the Super Eagles to beat Libya 3-2 and shoot to the top of Group E in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Ighalo scored in each half of the game, while match captain Ahmed Musa added another one.
It was a narrow win for the Super Eagles in the Tunisian city of Sfax, but it was just enough to claim a third consecutive victory.
South Africa’s goalless with Seychelles earlier on Tuesday meant Nigeria now tops the group with nine points, while Bafana Bafana slipped to second with eight points.
Libya remain in the third position on the log with four points, while Seychelles sit at the bottom of the log with one point.
The match started on a bright note for the Nigerian side as Musa combined well with Alex Iwobi to find Ighalo in the box for an easy tap-in in the 14th minute.
The Changchun Yatai striker returned the favour three minutes later as he found Musa who forced his way past three Libyan defenders before scoring Nigeria’s second.
Libya responded in the 35th minute as a near-post header by Mohamed Zubya completely beat Francis Uzoho in goal to make it 2-1.
The second half became more difficult for the three-time African champions as Libya piled on the pressure.
The hosts’ long wait for an equaliser finally came as Ahmad Benali made it 2-2 in the 74th minute after an initial Uzoho’s save fell kindly into his path.
He only needed to tuck it away to keep the game open.
However, an individual brilliance from Ighalo gave Nigeria a crucial victory as he beat two defenders and drove in a left-foot shot to make it 3-2 at the end of a nervy encounter.
Both Nigeria and South Africa will play what should be the deciding group match on Friday, Nov. 15 at the FMB Stadium in Johannesburg.
The Super Eagles will end their campaign when they take on Seychelles at home on Match Day 6 on March 22.
Meanwhile, a cross-section of football enthusiasts in Enugu on Tuesday hailed the Super Eagles for brightening the country’s chances of qualification for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon.
They are ahead of South Africa who have eight points from four games.
Some enthusiasts who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) praised the Super Eagles players for their gallant fight in the match played in Sfax, Tunisia.
Rangers International FC’s Media Officer, Norbert Okolie, said it was noteworthy that the Eagles dug deep for the result.
He however pointed out that the team’s coaching crew still needed to work on the defence and the goalkeeping area.
“Nigeria is a household name in African football and deserved the victory. But the victory did not come cheap.
“It was a sweet victory, considering its importance and the place it has given to us on the road to 2019 AFCON in Cameroon.
“With nine points in the group we are well positioned as we have only two matches to go.
“So, the Eagles need to get a draw in South Africa in our next match and beat Seychelles at home to wrap up the qualification,” he said.
Also, Ebere Amaraizu, the Team Manager of an Enugu-based Nigeria National League (NNL) clubside, said the team did well.
He however insisted that the team still needed to improve to eliminate acts of being jittery, as was displayed during the game.
“Nigeria players are professionals and do not need to concede cheap goals the way they did against the Libyan team that was not equal to their level.
“But we thank God for Ighalo who restored the lead to ensure the Eagles pocketed the three points at stake,” Amaraizu said.
Franklin Ibekwe, a corps member serving in Enugu, said Nigeria did not seem to have a solid team that could compete with teams from countries like England, Spain and Portugal.
He said Tuesday’s match showed that the players were not coordinated, lacked confidence and could not hold the ball.
Ibekwe said he expected a more matured game and that the Eagles did not live up to his expectations, even as they did well to pick the three points.
Chijioke Okonkwo, a businessman, also noted that the Nigerian team’s style of play was disappointing especially considering that it played against a less experienced team in Libya.
“I cannot imagine what would have been the outcome if Nigeria had played against England or the France team now,” he said.
Okonkwo also noted that the Libyans are no longer pushovers in African football, and Nigeria had to play against them with experience.
“Beating the Libyans was not easy at all.’’