Goals from China-based duo Odion Ighalo and captain Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and substitute Kelechi Iheanacho handed the Super Eagles an emphatic 4-0 victory over African champions Cameroon in Uyo on Friday and move a step closer in qualifying for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
It was an assured display, one of their best in recent times, which extended the Eagles’ lead in Group B of the African qualifiers with maximum nine points from three games, after earlier wins against Zambia (2-1) and Algeria (3-1).
The reverse fixture of the double-header comes up in Yaounde on Monday but the Lions, who are second with two points, could go further down after the match between Zambia and Algeria on Saturday.
After a painful 2-0 defeat at the same venue to South Africa in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in June, Eagles coach Gernot Rohr made several changes. China-based duo Mikel and Ighalo, Moses and centre-back Leon Balogun topped the list of returnees to the squad.
The German, in charge in his fifth competitive game, opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Elderson Echiejile, Shehu Abdullahi, Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong in defence. Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenyi Onazi were in defensive midfield while Moses, Mikel and Moses Simon supported Ighalo in the attack. IfeanyiUbah’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa was in goal for his first competitive match.
But the visitors were the livelier of both sides during the early exchanges, with Moumi Ngamaleu placing his shot just wide. In the 10th minute, Christian Bassogog, a big problem for Echiejile on the left flank, swung in a free-kick, which the Nigerian defence dealt with. Eight minutes later, Bassogog was through on goal but his effort went wide.
The hosts had their first attempt on goal in the 19th minute when Ndidi and Simon combined to free Mikel, who found Moses on the edge of the box but the Chelsea man sent his captain’s pass high and wide.
The Eagles then took the initiative and should have gone ahead in the 24th minute with a well struck Moses free-kick but Egyptian referee Ibrahim Grisha ruled it off, as Ighalo was adjudged offside.
There was no denying the hosts five minutes later as Ndidi headed Ondoa’s long ball to Mikel and the Eagles captain found Ighalo, who used sheer power and pace to outwit his marker on the edge of the box before slotting home the opener to provoke the ‘bum shuffle’ celebration — made popular by DR Congo keeper, Robert Kidiaba — from the debuting Ezenwa.
Mikel doubled the Eagles’ lead a minute before the break off a Moses corner. Cameroon were then gifted a rare opportunity to attack three minutes after the break, but André-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s low shot was saved by the impressive Ezenwa.
Moses, Simon and Ighalo were causing the Cameroonians all sorts of problems and the pressure counted in the 55th minute when Moses combined beautifully with Simon off a counter-attack before poking home inside the box.
Iheanacho, who came on for Ighalo, then sealed the emphatic victory with a low diving header off a cross from Ogenyi Onazi in the 77th minute to send fans at the Uyo stadium, which included the Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel, who promised the Eagles $10,000 per goal, into delirious celebrations, and for the last time, elicit more ‘bum shuffle’ celebration from the ecstatic Ezenwa, who kept a clean sheet on his competitive debut for the Eagles.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday congratulated the Eagles over the emphatic victory against Cameroon and urged the players to sustain the momentum during the reverse fixture in Yaoundé on Monday.
The President’s congratulatory message was contained in a statement made available to journalists by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina.
The statement read, “The President joins millions of football-loving Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora in applauding the senior men’s football team for their disciplined, skillful and entertaining display against the defending African champions.
“President Buhari, while noting that with the exhilarating victory, Nigeria is on the verge of qualification for the World Cup in Russia 2018, urges the players to sustain the momentum as they approach the crucial second leg of the tie in Yaounde, on Monday.
“The President enjoins Nigerians who always see football as a unifying platform, to continue to pray and support the team to guarantee victory next week and make qualification doubly sure.
“He also commends the Akwa Ibom State Government for its continued support and provision of excellent hosting facilities.”
Also, former President Goodluck Jonathan congratulated the team, urging them to keep up with the winning spirit.
“Football is a great unifier and the Super Eagles have done much to unify Nigeria by this win. I celebrate their talent. Go Super Eagles,” he tweeted on Friday.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, congratulated the Eagles, describing the victory as “a befitting Sallah gift to Nigerians.”
Ekweremadu, who expressed satisfaction with the performance of the national team in all departments of the game, said, “I congratulate them on this superlative performance as they take another giant step closer to Russia 2018. But they must also bear in mind that this is football; it is never over until it is over. I urge them to remain focused and approach every game with the high level of positive attitude, determination, and commitment that they exhibited today (Friday), taking no team for granted.”
He also commended Nigerians, especially the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, and the people of Akwa Ibom for motivating the Eagles to one of their best outings in recent times.