Samuel Kalu was the hero yesterday at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo. When Nigeria needed a leader in a game that was going neither here nor there, the Bordeaux forward picked up the ball and waltzed through the Benin Republic defence to give the Super Eagles a much needed breather from the dogged Squirrels.
Yesterday’s Cameroun 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifier against Benin Republic was expected to be a fairly easy win for the Super Eagles, who were coming from fantastic displays against two of the world’s best teams, Ukraine and Brazil.
Nigeria drew both matches to show that they could hold their own against the mightiest of teams in world football. But against the supposed minnows from Benin Republic, Eagles’ fans were left wondering if their team actually had the ingredients super sides are made of.
The match was barely three minutes old when old warhorse, Stephane Sessegnon capitalized on a sloppy Eagles defence to beat Daniel Akpeyi for the opener.
Stunned by the goal, the Eagles could not get their acts together immediately and were at the risk of conceding even more goals as Benin Republic grew in confidence.
However, Nigeria started regaining their composure as the game wore on with Samuel Chukwueze becoming more imposing in the match. The Villarreal man hit the frame of the goal in the 40th minute shortly before the Eagles were presented with the equalizer in the 45th minute.
Torino defender, Ola Aina, was upended in the box by a desperate Beninoise defender, Nabil Yarou, and Victor Osimhen dispatched the penalty.
Nigeria began to dictate the flow of the game in the second half, but they still found it difficult to break down the opposing defence until Kalu took matters into his hands.
The Bordeaux star, who missed Nigeria’s last friendly against Brazil due to injury, picked up the ball, beat the oncoming defenders before shooting past Fabien Farnolle.
The 2-1 victory shot Nigeria to the top of Group L table, as the other teams in the group, Sierra Leone and Lesotho, played out a 1-1 draw at the Siaka Stevens Stadium, Freetown
Nigeria will meet Lesotho at the Setsoto Stadium on Sunday, while Benin Republic will entertain Sierra Leone.
In other matches, Guinea Bissau rattled Eswatini 3-0 in Group I, Central African Republic thrashed Burundi 2-0 in E, while Malawi ran away with a lone goal victory over South Africa in Group B.
Elsewhere, Cameroun ended their encounter in Group F with Cape Verde 0-0, while Namibia overpowered Chad 2-1 in Group A.