The Super Eagles of Nigeria have qualified for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with one game to spare.
The three-time African champions booked their ticket for the continental competition after defeating Sierra Leone 3-2 at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium in Monrovia, Liberia, on Sunday evening.
A stoppage-time tap-in from Kelechi Iheanacho was the most important goal in a match where the Super Eagles surrendered a two-goal lead.
Jose Peseiro started the match with the attacking trio of in-form Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, and Moses Simon.
He also preferred the backline paring over Kenneth Omeruo and Semilore Ajayi as Willam Troost-Ekong was benched.
The Eagles showed their intent in the early minutes of the game. Osimhen’s header was only stopped by Ibrahim Sesay, Sierra Loanean’s goalkeeper.
A few minutes later, Chukwueze fired high and wide from the edge of the box after he was teed up. He then scuffed a bigger opportunity after Osimhen wrestled the ball off a defender to set him face-to-face with Sesay.
Shortly, the early pressure paid for Nigeria as Osimhen pounced on a long ball and executed a perfect lob over the onrushing Sesay, who watched as the strike sailed into the empty net.
The Napoli striker doubled the lead in the 32nd minute after he was sent through on goal by a cute pass by Joe Aribo.
Although Osimhen’s initial shot looked weak, it was effective enough to trickle through the legs of Sesay.
The goal was Osimhen’s 17th for the Super Eagles, taking him past Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo to sixth on the list of the team’s all-time marksmen.
The Eagles took their feet off the gas from there on, and they were punished just before halftime. Mustapha Bundu’s shot was too powerful and quick for Adebayo Adeleye, the Nigerian goalkeeper.
The Leone Stars kept turning the screws on Nigeria for an equaliser as the game continued.
They got their second goal through Augustus Kargbo in the 84th minute with a piledriver from the edge of the goal area.
However, when it looked like the match was heading for a stalemate, Saidu Sanusi produced a moment of brilliance. He dribbled through the Sierra Leonean defence before setting up Iheanacho with a simple tap-in.
The victory secured Nigeria’s place at the AFCON billed for Ivory Coast next year.
The Eagles lead the group with 12 points from five games, followed by Guinea-Bissau with 10 points.
Sierra Leone claimed the third spot with five points, while Sao Tome seat at the base of the group with 1 point.
Nigeria will face Sao Tome in the final group game of the qualifier in September.