It wasn’t going to be smooth-sailing as the Super Eagles of Nigeria kicked off their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers due to several factors.
The Super Eagles first had to do with the crazy schedule; three of the nine players who were last in camp arrived just a day to the game. Gernot Rohr had to do with just one training session.
Then, there is that uncertainty that comes with playing against African oppositions. It’s not just football; it’s a physical battle against the slapdash nature of the games against West African opposition.
The Squirrels were up for it; it took them just five minutes to stun the home side with a goal. It had to be Stephane Sessegnon, Benin’s most prolific player whose freekick was allowed to roll into the net.
The Super Eagles regrouped and tried to respond but they lacked the fluency in attack to trouble The Squirrels.
Samuel Chukwueze was causing problems on the right-wing but he failed on a couple of times to connect with Victor Osimhen.
The Super Eagles dominated possession all through and should have levelled in the 40th minute through Chuwkeuze who received the ball in a good area after a swift counter but his effort hit the post.
It didn’t take long before the equaliser came. A quick interchange released Ola Aina on the right but the fullback was fouled in the box by an opposition defender to concede a penalty which Osimhen converted to bring Nigeria level.
The second half started the way the first ended as Nigeria pressed for another goal. Just after the hour-mark, Samuel Kalu got the goal after his brilliance.
The Bordeaux forward cut into the box with the ball, dribbling past some defenders before shooting past the Benin goalkeeper for Nigeria’s second goal.
It was duly deserved and the Super Eagles should have scored at least another. Joe Aribo threatened from the middle, Kalu tried to have a repeat of the move that gave him his goal while Osimhen should have scored from a swift counter.
In the end, the Super Eagles had to defend their one-goal lead and were lucky that the Squirrels could only hit the post after some sloppy defending late on.