Nigeria reached the Round of 16 at the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations after goals by Samuel Chukwueze, Taiwo Awoniyi and Moses Simon condemned Sudan’s Falcons of Jediane to a 3-1 defeat at the Stade Roumdé Adjia in the northern Cameroonian town of Garoua.
The Eagles had won eight of 14 previous clashes with the Sudanese, which included four draws, and they started with that air of superiority as former U17 World Cup winner Chukwueze rolled the ball elegantly past goalkeeper Ali Abdalla Aboeshren in the second minute to record the fastest goal of the competition so far.
The Sudanese did not bow their heads in self-pity, and instead showed some delightful passing game, possession football, competence in launching fast counter-attacks and also hinting at some ambition.
Nigeria, who pipped seven-time champions Egypt 1-0 on Tuesday and knew an early ticket to the Round of 16 was at hand, also rolled the ball easily on the natural grass and for large swathes of the evening bossed the game, with right back Olaoluwa Aina characteristically joining the attack when it appeared safe and Wilfred Ndidi and Joe Aribo working hard to keep things moving in the middle. Moses Simon, Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Samuel Chukwueze were always cooking up a ploy.
Before Awoniyi found the net for Nigeria’s second goal in the 45th minute, Nigerians thought their team had scored a second in the 36th minute when Chukwueze and Iheanacho combined on the right side of the field and got the ball past Aboeshren, only for the ball to miraculously head out of the net in a hazy melee.
Simon, who dazzled to no end against the Pharaohs but was somewhat curtailed in the first period, switched to a higher gear at the beginning of the second half and was assisted by Awoniyi, who chested down a short lob to free the France –based forward for a close encounter with Aboeshren that the goalkeeper emerged the loser, as he had to pick the ball from his net.
Six minutes later, Awoniyi fluffed a good opportunity to make it four, wasting a split second before making contact with the ball from a counter attack.
In the 70th minute, South African referee Victor Miguel Gomes judged that Aina had tripped a Sudanese defender in the Nigerian penalty area during a corner, and awarded a penalty to the Falcons, which was converted by substitute Mohamed Hussein.
On Wednesday at the same venue, the Super Eagles will take on the Wild Dogs of Guinea Bissau, debutants at Africa’s flagship football competition, in their last match of Group D.