Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen‘s scintillating form continued on Sunday as his brace, combined with Kelechi Iheanacho‘s stoppage time winner, saw the Super Eagles beat Sierra Leone 3-2 to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast in January.
It was a closer battle than the Super Eagles would have liked, especially given their history against the Leone Stars. Nigeria fans were given echoes of that nightmarish collapse from 4-1 to 4-4 against the same opponent not so long ago.
They watched their team go two goals up within the opening 30 minutes, only to give up two goals of their own to tie the game 2-2 with six minutes left to play. But there was to be no deja vu, as Zaidu Sanusi‘s jinking run set up Iheanacho for an easy tap-in during injury time.
Having qualified for AFCON with a game to spare, there are still a few talking points for coach Jose Peseiro to consider.
Osimhen is writing his way into the history books
With 10 shots on target, Nigeria could have been well out of sight of Sierra Leone in the first half, and it would have been mostly down to Serie A golden boot Osimhen.
The Napoli striker, with the prospect of a mega transfer looming this offseason, could have been forgiven for approaching the game with a play safe mentality to avoid injury. But that attitude is alien to Osimhen.
He was a constant menace to the Sierra Leone back four, putting them under pressure with his pressing and aggression. The two goals he helped himself to were just reward for his efforts, but not only could he have had a hat-trick, he could have finished with at least four assists if Samuel Chukwueze, Moses Simon and Kelechi Iheanacho had put away the clear goalscoring opportunities he created for them.
In any case, the forward’s two goals saw him move up to joint sixth, with Sunday Oyerukhua, in Nigeria’s all time scorer’s list with 17 goals, leapfrogging Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa. It has taken him only 26 games to get there, giving him the all-time best goals to games ratio (0.65) of any Nigeria striker.
Adeleye makes solid debut, but Uzoho is safe
One of the big questions going into the game was how Hapoel Jerusalem goalkeeper Adebayo Adeleye would fare in the absence of regular stopper Francis Uzoho.
High profile mistakes have meant that both Uzoho and Maduka Okoye have fallen out of favour, and a clamour for a new goalkeeper has been in the offing since Okoye’s AFCON slip and Uzoho’s World Cup qualifying disaster.
Adeleye has been touted as a possible option, especially since Okoye lost playing time after his move to Watford. Sunday’s game was a chance to stake his claim to the game of musical chairs that is the Nigerian goalkeeping position.
While Adeleye passed his audition, it is hard to say he did so with flying colours. He was barely tested, and on one occasion made a nervy punch out that could have proved disastrous. He couldn’t be blamed for either of Sierra Leone’s goals, although an argument could be made that perhaps he could have come off a bit earlier to narrow the angle for the first.
However, that is the argument for good, not great. While he looked quick on his feet, showed fine positioning and good reflexes, there remains the question of whether he did enough to make him anything but a deputy. How will he handle his first mistake, like Uzoho and Okoye?
One game is way too small a sample size to make a judgement, but safe to say that when Uzoho returns, he will have no problems walking back into the starting XI.
Will they have a coach by month end?
With Nigeria having qualified for AFCON, the question is who will be in charge for the final game of the series, and lead the Super Eagles to Côte d’Ivoire early next year?
Peseiro’s contract is up at the end of the month, and while he continues to insist he wants to win the Nations Cup with Nigeria, the NFF are skint and are being suffocated by the weight of his $70 000 per month wages.
It is so bad that his Nigeria assistants, including former internationals Finidi George and Ike Shorunmu, were asked to alternate games, so only one would need to be paid. Worse, Peseiro has been limited to calling up just 19 players based abroad per squad.
So far, it is unclear whether the NFF will keep him, although sources say he may be asked to take a significant wage cut to stay on.
If he is let go, the NFF are looking at local replacements, with Emmanuel Amunike and Finidi the front runners.