By Omololu OgunmadeÂ in Abuja andÂ Kunle Adewale
President Muhammadu Buhari last night congratulated Nigeriaâ€™s Super Eagles on their victory over the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the ongoing World Cup Qualifiers in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State yesterday.
Buhari, in a statement by his chief spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, said he joined millions of football-loving Nigerians at home and abroad to applaud the Eagles for what he described as their disciplined, skillful and entertaining display against the defending African champions who they thrashed 4-0.
He said Buhari noted that with the exhilarating victory, Nigeria was on the verge of qualification for the World Cup in Russia 2018 and urged the players to sustain the momentum as they approach the crucial second leg of the tie in Yaounde, Cameroon on Monday.
“The President enjoins Nigerians who always see football as a unifying platform, to continue to pray and support the team to guarantee victory next week and make qualification doubly sure.
“He also commends the Akwa Ibom State Government for its continued support and provision of excellent hosting facilities,” the statement added.
The victory takes the Super Eagles to a full haul of nine points at the top of Group B, a comfortable seven clear of the second-placed Indomitable Lions, though the gap could be reduced by either Zambia or Algeria when they meet in Lusaka on today.
Cameroon started the stronger of the two teams, settling quickly into a passing rhythm and also pressing high up the pitch to make it difficult for the hosts to play out from the back.
However, Nigeria soon went up a couple of gears and began to dominate. Their first hint of a goal arrived in the 24th minute when Victor Mosesâ€™ free kick passed through the box and found the back of the net, but was ruled out for offside.
Yet it was only five more minutes before the Super Eagles broke the deadlock: striker Odion Ighalo outmuscled defender Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui to win a long ball before cutting inside and scoring with a superb low finish.
Cameroon needed goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa to make a terrific save on 36 minutes to keep out a goal-bound effort from Moses Simon, but there was nothing he could do six minutes later when John Obi Mikel made it 2-0, getting ahead of his marker to meet Mosesâ€™ corner kick and toe-poke the ball home from close range.
Nigeria added a third goal just 10 minutes into the second half, with a speedy counter attack seeing Moses exchange passes with fellow wideman Simon before firing home a low shot to effectively end the match as a contest.
And Cameroonâ€™s match went from bad to worse when half-time substitute Eric Choupo-Moting pulled up with an injury and had to be replaced just before the hour mark.
Nigeria put the cherry on top with a fourth goal, arriving in the 76th minute: Moses and Ogenyi Onazi combined superbly down the right flank to hand substitute Kelechi Iheanacho a simple header into an almost empty net.
The teams will meet again for the return game in Yaounde on Monday evening, with the Indomitable Lions seeking redemption for this embarrassing defeat.
A win in the second leg would ensure the Super Eagles book their place to the 2018 World Cup.
The Gernot Rohr lads will pocket the sum of $40,000 for scoring four goals as promised by the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Emmanuel Udom, apart from their $5,000 winning bonus to be paid by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.
Meanwhile, Ghana’s hopes of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia have suffered a massive blow following a 1-1 draw against Congo at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi on Friday.
Thievy Bifouma and Thomas Partey found the back of the net for their respective countries as the two nations remain in third and fourth place respectively in Group E.
While Congo will take heart from the result, it serves as no real help for either the Black Stars or the Red Devils heading into the reverse fixture in Brazzaville, as Uganda and Egypt continue to lead the way.
For Kwesi Appiah’s men, who carried a 50-year unbeaten record against their counterparts into the clash, they are now in serious danger of seeing their chances of a fourth world showpiece appearance in succession go up in smoke.
The Black Stars looked nervous from the onset and almost conceded as early as the fourth minute as a lack of communication between Daniel Amartey and Richard Ofori created a chance for Bifouma who failed at the final hurdle.
Partey had the ball in the back of the net for the hosts in the 14th minute, but he looked rather sheepish as he hammered home – his attempt was duly chalked off with the assistant’s flag raised.
Congo opened the scoring four minutes later as a mistake by Josef Attamah paved the way for Fabrice Nguessi to tee up Bifouma for an easy finish – the forward building on his impressive international record.
Partey – a defensive midfielder by trade – continued to provide Ghana’s biggest threat with the Atletico Madrid man seeing his rasping shot well saved by Barel Mouko in the 38th minute.
Congo were 1-0 up at the break.
Appiah introduced Harrison Afful following the interval and the USA-based defender made a visible impact as his rasping effort cannoned into the side-netting in the 70th minute.
Jowrdan Ayew was then denied by Moukou who got down well to keep out the forward’s shot from close range. The Black Stars continued to surge forward in attack and finally got their reward in the 85th minute as Partey slipped the ball into the back of the net from a Christian Atsu through ball.
Ghana, though, were unable to find the winner as their World Cup hopes now hang by a thread.