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AFCON qualifiers: Iwobi, Osimhen fire Super Eagles past plucky Sierra Leone

THE Super Eagles got their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign off to a victorious start today with a 3-1 win over Sierra Leone in Abuja.

The Nigerian team had to come from behind to secure the three points against the plucky Leone Stars on a badly cut up pitch at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium.

Jonathan Morsay gave Sierra Leone a shock lead before Nigeria rallied back through Alex Iwobi and Victor Osimhen at the empty stadium, which is serving a ban for the chaos that marred the World Cup playoffs against Ghana in March.

Struggling to cope with the poor playing surface and a line-up with no defensive midfielder, the Super Eagles went behind after only 12 minutes.

The Leone Stars had the brighter start and they worked the opening goal superbly. William Troost-Ekong was easily beaten on the right as the visitors broke away, and Calvin Bassey was caught napping as Morsay stole ahead of him to score with a brilliant diving header.

With their tails up, the Leone Stars were almost 2-0 up four minutes after, but goalkeeper Francis Uzoho pushed a shot from close range to the base of the post after the Super Eagles defence had been cut open again.

Moments later, the Super Eagles equalised, Iwobi placing the ball with precision past the goalkeeper from Moses Simon’s cute pass.

The game became very open, with chances at both ends, and Osimhen put the hosts in front just before half-time.

The Napoli striker poked the ball home in the 41st minute as Simon knocked down a cross from Ola Aina into his path.

It was almost 3-1 in the stroke of half-time as a seemingly harmless ball from Umar Sadiq found its way to Simon after a missed Sierra Leone clearance, but the goalkeeper smothered the shot.

The Super Eagles came close to increasing their advantage again early in the second half, but Samuel Chukwueze stroked the ball wide from inside the box with only the Leon Stars goalkeeper to beat.

With the addition of Oghenekaro Etebo in place of Sadiq at the restart, the game became a bit less open and the Super Eagles gained more control.

Although the Leone Stars still looked dangerous on the break, the best opportunities of the second half fell to the Super Eagles, with Osimhen and substitute Ademola Lookman coming close.

The Super Eagles saw the victory through despite late pressure from Sierra Leone and ended a run of five games without a win.

The victory is also Nigeria’s first over Sierra Leone in three matches, the previous two ending in draws, and the first under new head coach Jose Peseiro.

The Super Eagles are second in Group A behind Guinea Bissau, who spanked Sao Tome and Principe in their opening match.

Next up for the Super Eagles is a trip to Marrakech, Morocco to face Sao Tome and Principe on Monday.

SUPER EAGLES STARTING LINE-UP VERSUS SIERRA LEONE:

Francis Uzoho; Ola Aina, William Troost-Ekong, Semi Ajayi, Calvin Bassey; Joe Aribo, Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze; Victor Osimhen, Umar Sadiq.

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Naija Times