Eagles Rally to Beat Benin Squirrels in Opening Game

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L-R: Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo and Jamilu Collins celebrating Nigeria's bronze at the last AFCON 2019 in Egypt. Nigeria defeated Benin Republic 2-1 yesterday to start the AFCON 2021 qualifiers with maximum points

AFCON 2021 QUALIFIER

Duro Ikhazuagbe

Super Eagles came from behind to beat Benin Republic 2-1 in their opening 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying match at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo yesterday evening.

Lille of France’s Victor Osimhen scored Nigeria’s equalizing goal from the penalty spot in the 45th minute to cancel out Stéphane Sessègnon’s third minute opener for the visitors from neighbouring Benin Republic.

It was however Samuel Kalu that secured maximum points for Eagles when he delivered the winner in the 63rd minute.

The victory moves Nigeria to the leadership of Group L on three points with Sierra Leone and Lesotho that played out a 1-1 draw in Freetown second and third respectively.

The Super Eagles are playing away to Lesotho on Sunday while Benin Republic will host Sierra Leone in Cotonou.

Without any doubt, Eagles clumsily started the encounter in Uyo.

It therefore was no surprise that Squirrels’ Captain, Sessegnon, had to jolt the mostly Europe-based Nigerian professionals from their slumber with that early minute goal.

Sloppy defending gifted the Benin captain a clear sight of goal, and he made no mistake, slotting the ball past a helpless Daniel Akpeyi.

After that goal, Gernot Rohr’s men rose to the occasion, soaking up what the visitors had in their arsenal.

In the closing stages of the first half, Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze rattled the woodwork with 40 minutes on the clock. It didn’t take long for the equaliser to come as on the stroke of halftime. Ola Aina was upended in the box. A confident Osimhen stepped forward to rifle home from the penalty spot.

On resumption for the second half, there were equal exchanges with the Squirrels but it was Kalu who weaved his way into the area before slotting home from close range to give the Super Eagles a deserved lead in the 63rd minute.

Eagles however navigated their way through a nervy final few minutes to secure all three points as they immediately turn their attention to Lesotho, who they will face in Maseru this weekend.