Nigeria qualify for Afcon 2021, keep Sierra Leone alive
Nigeria have successfully qualified for the next Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Group L of the qualifiers after they defeated hosts Benin 1-0 at Stade Charles de Gaulle in Porto-Novo on Saturday evening.
The Super Eagles’ qualification for the Afcon was confirmed before they even kicked off against the Squirrels, as an earlier 0-0 draw between Lesotho and Sierra Leone in Maseru ensured that the three-time African champions would end in the top two of the group.
The result in Porto-Novo, secured by a late winner from Paul Onuachu, then ensured that Benin were not able to book a Nations Cup ticket alongside Nigeria. The Squirrels’ fate will instead be determined by their final qualifier against Sierra Leone on Tuesday.
Nigeria enjoyed most of the possession in the opening quarter, though they were unable to create any notable chances, with Victor Osimhen struggling to link up with the likes of Samuel Chukwueze and Kelechi Iheanacho.
Benin mostly looked to sit back and hit on the break, with their first real threat arriving on 22 minutes when Cebio Soukou let fly from just outside the penalty area but he pulled his effort wide of Nigeria goalkeeper Maduka Okoye’s right-hand post.
On 25 minutes, the Super Eagles brought a first save out of Benin’s Saturnin Allagbe, with Iheanacho shooting into the arms of the keeper from the edge of the 18-yard box. The Leicester City man threatened again nine minutes later, with a shot deflecting off a defender and travelling just wide of the mark.
The first half ended 0-0, though Nigeria very nearly broke the deadlock in the final minute before the break, with Henry Onyekuru’s header from Iheanacho’s cross brilliantly saved by Allagbe.
The Squirrels made a change in midfield at the start of the second half, replacing Yohan Roche with Moise Adilehou, though Nigeria almost immediately created another great chance, from which Chukwueze blazed over from close range.
On 56 minutes, Nigeria’s Osimhen nearly added to his tally of goals in this qualification tournament, striking the post with a low drive, while the rebound fell for Onyekuru but he was unable to capitalise.
Just past the hour mark, Super Eagles goalkeeper Okoye was called into significant action for the first time, scrambling across his goal line to turn away a header from Steve Mounie, while just under 10 minutes later the visitors made their first change by introducing Paul Onuachu off the bench in place of Iheanacho.
Onuachu then had the major contribution to the game, scoring deep into injury time. The striker headed home from close range after a goal-mouth scramble following a corner kick, handing Nigeria a dramatic but deserved win.
The teams will wrap up their group L campaigns on Tuesday, 30 March, with Benin away to Sierra Leone in Freetown and Nigeria at home to Lesotho in Lagos.