Kelechi Iheanacho fired Nigeria to a 1-0 win over Tanzania in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the Nest of Champions on Saturday.
It was the first game for Nigeria manager Gernot Rohr as he opted for an attacking team with the England-based quartet of Iheanacho, Odion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses named in the startlist.
As expected Tanzania head coach Boniface Mkwasa listed KRC Genk forward Mbwana Samatta as captain of the team.
The pre-match build-up had one description for the contest being, ‘dead rubber,’ but it was lively from the start of the game as the Nigerians pounced early.
Two minutes after kickoff, Ighalo smashed Iheanacho’s pass over the top under a close challenge in the box.
Nigeria continued to show that this was not going to be a dead rubber game as it was Moses’s turn to take a pop at goal. The Chelsea man’s free kick from 22 yards whizzed past the top right-hand corner of Aishi Manula in goal for Tanzania.
Tanzania hardly had a sniff of the ball, talk less of a chance at Nigeria’s goal. And 10 minutes into the game, Musa provided a layoff for Moses after skipping past two markers but the Chelsea man could not apply the finish.
A cutback, two minutes later, from Nigeria captain Mikel John Obi picked out Musa in Tanzania’s penalty area but the Leicester winger kicked the air and had a second attempt at goal when he toe-poked straight at Manula to hold.
Midway into the first half, Manchester City youngster Iheanacho struck with precision rather than power with his left foot but Manula produced a good save to keep his team in the game.
Moses then came close to scoring twice but fluffed the chances.
On the stroke of half time, Elderson Echiejile bombed forward and combined with Moses, but the latter flashed his effort over the top.
The restart produced the same scenario as Nigeria continued to press with Tanzania waiting for counter-attacks that never came or were broken down by the Super Eagles defence of Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong, Musa Mohammed and Echiejile.
On the hour, Musa’s low cross was met in the box by Mikel but again Manula saved point blank.
Within seconds, Manula denied Mikel again.
However, Manula could not deny Iheanacho with 12 minutes to time. The Manchester City striker picked up a short corner, ran into space to set himself up on his left foot before striking fiercely from the edge of the box to see the ball hit the underside of the crossbar to settle in the net for the winner.
Iheanacho’s superb goal would however not guarantee Nigeria a place at next year’s Afcon but it sure did hand new gaffer Rohr a win on his debut.
Nigeria finish in second behind Egypt in Group G of the Afcon qualification.
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