In a thrilling encounter on Sunday, Nigeria secured their place in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Sierra Leone. Victor Osimhen’s brace and a last-minute goal by Kelechi Iheanacho sealed the Super Eagles’ qualification.
Joining the host nation Ivory Coast, defending champions Senegal, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zambia, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Mali also secured their spots in the prestigious tournament, bringing the total number of qualifiers to 14.
Playing in Liberia, Sierra Leone’s temporary home due to the absence of an international-standard stadium, Nigeria needed only a draw to clinch qualification on matchday five. They started strongly, with Osimhen, the top scorer in the previous Serie A season, netting two goals within 32 minutes.
Sierra Leone fought back, reducing the deficit before halftime through Mustapha Bundu and then equalizing with Augustus Kargbo’s goal in the dying minutes of regular time. However, Iheanacho, despite his club’s relegation from the Premier League, found the winner five minutes into added time, converting a low cross from Zaidu Sanusi.
Nigeria and Sierra Leone have a history of producing dramatic encounters, with the Leone Stars famously erasing a four-goal deficit to draw 4-4 in a 2021 Cup of Nations qualifier. This time, Guinea-Bissau joined Nigeria from Group A after defeating Sao Tome e Principe.
In Group B, Cape Verde, a small island nation, secured their fourth appearance at the Cup of Nations with a 3-1 home victory over Burkina Faso. Joao Paulo and Euclides ‘Cle’ Andrade were the heroes for the Blue Sharks.
Mali continued their impressive record by qualifying for their ninth consecutive tournament, earning a 2-0 win over Congo in Brazzaville. Ibrahima Kone and Nene Dorgeles found the back of the net for the Eagles.
Ghana, however, missed an opportunity to secure qualification as they were held to a goalless draw by Madagascar, who are set to finish at the bottom of Group E. The race for the remaining qualifying spots in the final round is tight, with Ghana, Angola, and the Central African Republic vying for two places.
In other matches, Tanzania took a step closer to securing a runner-up finish in Group F with a 1-0 victory over Niger, while Uganda suffered a 2-1 defeat to reigning champions Algeria, who maintained a perfect record in the qualifiers.
Lastly, the Democratic Republic of Congo rose to the top of Group I with a 2-0 away win over Gabon, a match that saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang come out of international retirement to play for Gabon.
Source: Agence France-Presse