A goal in each half, one by home –boy Rabiu Ali and the other by Kingsley Eduwo, steered Nigeria into the finals of the 2018 African Nations Championship following a 2-0 win win over neighbours Benin Republic in Kano.
Victory at the Sani Abacha Stadium in the commercial capital of northern Nigeria earned the Super Eagles a 2-1 aggregate win, and dashed the Squirrels’ expectation of reaching the finals of a championship reserved for only footballers who ply their trade in their native country’s domestic Leagues.
Before kick-off, Nigerians remembered vividly how the Eagles were unable to upturn a 2-0 loss to Niger Republic away in the qualification for the same tournament eight years ago, and this, added to their own ambition, spurred the home boys to start like a house on fire.
Former junior international Alhassan Ibrahim, Kingsley Eduwo, Stephen Odey and Rabiu Ali combined severally to put the visitors under pressure in the early stages, but Eduwo’s weak shot and a poorly directed shot kept the scoreline even until the 23rd minute, when Alhassan drifted the ball to the left side and Ali blasted home for Nigeria’s first goal.
Six minutes later, Eduwo would rattle the goalkeeper with a long range shot, and two minutes before half time, defender Chima Akas thought he had put Nigeria ahead on aggregate, but his shot from a 20 –yard free kick rocked the upright and drifted away from goal.
Only two minutes into the second half, the goal that took Nigeria ahead in the fixture finally arrived, as Eduwo rose highest to nod home from a superb cross by Osas Okoro.
The Eagles strived to add to the tally, but the Beninoise defence –line stood solid. In the 65th minute, Nigeria had a big scare when Referee Joaquin Esono Eyang from Equatorial Guinea awarded the visitors a penalty as a Nigerian defender was adjudged to have handled the ball. But goalkeeper and skipper Ikechukwu Ezenwa rose to the occasion by saving the penalty.
The Eagles frisked for more goals but none came. However, triumph means they will attend a third consecutive African Nations Championship after missing the first two editions hosted by Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan.
The 5th African Nations Championship will be hosted by Kenya, 11th January – 2nd February 2018.