Nigeria shot to second place in Group E of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying series after Odion Ighalo exorcised his ghosts with a spectacular hat-trick and the impressive Samuel Kalu added one to condemn the Mediterranean Knights to a 4-0 defeat in Uyo.
Pinnick, who is also the 1st Vice President of CAF, commended NFF’s partners and sponsors, specially praising Official Optimum Partner, AITEO Group for their huge contributions to all facets of the Nigerian game.
“I wish to also thank Coca-Cola, Nigerian Breweries, Zenith Bank, Nike, Cadbury Nigeria PLC, Emzor, WAPIN Insurance, TGI, 1XBET, Peak Milk, Simba Group and SuperSport for their contributions which we very much appreciate.”
China –based former junior international Ighalo had not scored for Nigeria from open play since his goal against Cameroon at the same venue in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier 13 months ago, and it was clear the long interlude was getting to the forward. But a hat-trick against the Mediterranean Knights has fully restored his bounce and turn.
As early as the third minute, Nigeria was in front after Ighalo harassed goalkeeper Fathi Abdaula to fumble with a back pass, and the player himself dispatched the ball past the keeper from the spot kick.
Presented with an opportunity to increase the tally from a one-on-one with Abdaula eight minutes later, Ighalo shot weakly and the ball rolled away from goal.
Nigeria began to pile on the pressure, as Wilfred Ndidi’s header kissed the upright and bounced away, before Francis Uzoho was alert to parry the ball from a close header by the dangerous Anis Mohamed Saltou. Before half time, Ighalo failed to connect a sweet pull –out from Samuel Kalu from a quick counter –attack, and Kalu’s own chip from another fast breakaway was diverted by the crossbar.
Libya had settled and were knocking the ball around nicely, but Leon Balogun, William Ekong and Jamilu Collins were ever so alert and unruffled.
As the second half began, the combination of Iwobi, Kalu and skipper Ahmed Musa gained in fluency, and after Uzoho made another save from the ever so threatening Knights’ midfielder Ahmed Ben Ali and Ndidi sliced another shot over the bar, Ighalo scored the second from a magnificent Iwobi through pass, two minutes to the hour mark.
Kalu’s shot went straight into Abdaula’s hands as Nigeria stepped into third gear, and the crowd started to cheer. The third goal duly arrived. Another breakaway, another Iwobi through pass and Musa centred for Ighalo to put into the net at the second time of asking.
Kalu finally got the goal that his energy, endeavour and creativity deserved, on the dot of time, when he sliced a shot from the edge of the box into the right angle with goalkeeper Abdaula’s flailing hands unable to stop the ball from its destination.
Both teams clash again in a Matchday 4 fixture at the 18,000 –capacity Stade Taïeb Mhiri in the city of Sfax, Tunisia on Tuesday, 16th October.