Nigeria’s Super Eagles faced off with the Squirrels of Benin Republic in their AFCON 2021 qualifier knowing that result from Maseru had given them the ticket to the AFCON billed to hold in Cameroon, but they came with the intent to win. It took a very late strike to deliver the three points to the Eagles.
From the first minute, the Super Eagles had Benin Republic pinned back. The Squirrels played with a back five, and Steve Mounie was left as the only man I’m Nigeria’s half of the pitch. The first warning sign for the Squirrels came early in the first half when a snapshot from Samuel Chukwueze was parried over the goal by Benin keeper, Saturn Allagbe. A brilliant long ball from William Troost Ekong found Henry Onyekuru down the left flank and the Galatasaray man cut the ball back to in-form Leicester City striker, Kelechi Iheanacho whose first time shot from the edge of the box was blocked. It was all Nigeria in the first half, and the dominance almost led to an opener as FC Porto left back, Zaidu Sanusi embarked on a brilliant run down the left channel and played in a cross that was met by the head of Onyekuru who drew a majestic save from the man between the sticks for Benin Republic, Allagbe. The second half started as the first ended, with the Eagles dominating proceedings and Napoli striker, Victor Osimhen struck the frame of the goal with a shot, before Sanusi wildly blazed the rebound over the post. Coach Rohr withdrew Iheanacho for KRC Genk striker, Paul Onuachu, and Enyimba winger, Anayo Iwuala was given his international debut as he replaced Onyekuru. The game looked set to end in a stalemate as Benin Republic looked content to sit back for a draw that would secure their qualification to the tournament. However, a twist at the very end of the game ensured that Nigeria left with all three points. Samuel Chukwueze swung in a corner which led to a scramble in the box. Victor Osimhen was just able to get a shot away, and Allagbe blocked the shot but the ball looped into the air for the giant Onuachu to power a header into the unguarded net from just outside the six-yard box in the 92nd minute and seal the win for the Super Eagles.
Super Eagles’ win was the first by any country in Benin Republic since 2013. Onuachu averages a goal contribution every 82 minutes this season for club and country, and Nigeria have secured back-to-back appearances at the Nations Cup for the first time in 11 years. Benin Republic now face a tricky trip to Sierra Leone for their last qualifying game in Freetown.