Nigeria overcame a stunning early goal to turn the screw on Sierra Leone and eventually win 2-1 to pick all three points in a Day 1 encounter of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualification series at the MKO Abiola Stadium on Thursday.
The fleet-footed Leone Stars, who famously came back from four goals down to tie the match 4-4 in an AFCON qualifier against Nigeria in Benin City in November 2021, had knocked hard at the Super Eagles’ door as early as the 4th minute, when a rasping shot from Mohamed Turay was tipped over the bar by Francis Uzoho.
Two minutes later, a good pass by Aribo was followed by a teasing cross from Calvin Bassey but Victor Osimhen’s header failed to find target. In the 10th minute, a brilliant pass from Sadiq Umar found Osimhen, whose shot drifted away.
At the other end, just a minute after, Jonathan Morsay scored a stunning goal with a diving header from a pin-point pull-out from Alhassan Koroma.
Four minutes later, the advantage could have been stretched for the visitors when they hit the upright on another counter-attack.
However, in the 16th minute, Nigeria were level when an exchange of passes between Alex Iwobi and Moses Simon ended with the former emphatically finding the far corner of goalkeeper Mohamed Kamara’s post.
Three minutes later, Kamara saved a strong Moses Simon header, and in the 35th minute, Musa Kamara came close with a stinging grounder as the visitors swarmed forward once more.
Four minutes before half time, Osimhen scored Nigeria’s second when he drove the ball into the roof of the net from a Simon header off Ola Aina’s cross from the right.
In the second half, the game flowed from one end to the other, but Nigeria should have made it 3-1 in the 58th minute when Iwobi ansd Osimhen carved open the visitors’ defence, only for Samuel Chukwueze to get too much purchase on his shot and drag it wide.
Aribo, Osimhen and substitute Ademola Lookman all missed chances as Nigeria pushed for another goal, but in added time, it took Aribo’s last-second intervention to deny the Leone Stars.
The Eagles pocket three points and are top of Group A, as they head to Agadir, Morocco for their Day 2 encounter against the ‘The Falcons and True Parrots’of São Tomé and Príncipe on Monday evening.