Two late goals, including a spectacular Osas Okoro free-kick, sealed a 2-0 victory for the home-based Super Eagles of Nigeria against Sierra Leone in a WAFU Cup of Nations match on Monday night.
The Nigerian team started the match at the Cape Coast Stadium on the back foot, perhaps because they only arrived in Ghana 24 hours before kick-off.
To their credit, the Super Eagles thwarted the early advances of the Sierra Leone team, with goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa showcasing his experience and superb qualities with some daring saves as the match remained goalless at the half-time break.
The Eagles burst into life in the second half, following the introduction of the duo of Peter Eneji and Ubong Friday – who came on for Anthony Okpotu and Mathias Samuel respectively.
At the midway point of the half, left-back Chima Akas found himself in an advanced position in the opposition area, and drew a good save from the Sierra Leone goalkeeper.
However, the Eagles should have gone behind in the 76th minute but Adamu Barrie somehow managed to fire straight at Ezenwa in a one-on-one situation, the captain coming to his side’s rescue once again.
That miss came back to haunt Sierra Leone in the 84th-minute, when Okoro bent a superb freekick over the wall and into the back of the net to give Nigeria the lead.
Substitute Eneji of Plateau United, celebrated both his maiden league title and international appearance with a goal of his three minutes later, drilling home off the post to secure the victory, which hands them a spot in the group stage.
Nigeria are placed in group B alongside Ghana, Guinea and Mali.
The Super Eagles play their first group game on Thursday against host nation and arch-rival Ghana, in what surely promises to be a cracker.