A late strike from Paul Onuachu earned Nigeria bragging rights as the Super Eagles defeated Benin Republic 1-0 in the matchday 5 of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at the Charles de Gaulle stadium in Porto-Novo on Saturday.
The victory meant that the Eagles ended Benin’s eight-year unbeaten home record, which stretched back to 2013.
There wasn’t much to this game for 90 minutes. While the Super Eagles dominated possession, their performance in this game still divided opinion.
With no real motivation for the game-due to a goalless draw in the other Group L game between Lesotho and Sierra Leone had ensured Nigeria were through to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON)-the Super Eagles did just enough to see this game through.
But it was still fodder for Gernot Rohr’s critics, who believed the team had not shown much progress.
But despite failing to convince, the Super Eagles were still the better side against a Benin Republic side who were going to be content with a draw.
Henry Onyekuru, in a rare start for the Super Eagles, was the liveliest player in the first half, running at the Benin Republic defence and causing some problems.
Zaidu Sanusi was solid, so also was the Oyibo Wall central defence pairing of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun.
But it was the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho who first tested the Benin Republic goalkeeper with a shot from outside the area which was parried to a corner.
With the absence of Alex Iwobi, Iheanacho was on from the start and played off Victor Osimhen. Despite their willingness to play each other in, their combination never came out right.
Osimhen should have scored in the 24th minute, but his effort from a good area was straight at the goalkeeper.
Iheanacho had one effort over the bar after an excellent combination play with Onyekuru. The Galatasaray man should have scored just before halftime, but his header off a fine cross from the amazing Sanusi was straight at the goalkeeper.
The intensity dropped in the second half; Onyekuru wasn’t as visible, and Osimhen saw an effort come off the post in the 56th minute, to sum up his evening.
Maduka Okoye wasn’t that busy, but he reacted well to some situations in his box.
There was really nothing of note before Onuachu came on for Iheanacho in the 69th minute.
The gangly striker has been a subject of conversation after Rohr ignored him from the initial 24-man squad for this game and the next against Lesotho.
Despite being the most in-form Nigeria player at that moment and with the most goals this season, the 26-year-old could only get on the standby list.
Rohr faced intense scrutiny over that decision, so he came with an explanation; “It is because I want to see somebody else. We saw him already, we know him, we know his strengths,” Rohr told ESPN.
The ‘somebody else’ was Spanish-based striker Sadiq Umar, who could not make the squad due to enforced travel restrictions.
So Onuachu was brought in to replace Umar.
To be fair to Rohr, Onuachu had failed to impress in recent games with the Super Eagles. He was anonymous against Algeria in October 2020, and Rohr had in the past admitted that the striker does not fit with his style.
But does failing to make use of a striker who has scored 25 league goals in 30 games this season not tell you anything about a manager?
Here he was at the Stade Charles de Gaulle playing alongside Osimhen in a front-two. It seemed chaotic at this point like Rohr was trying to see out the game in any way possible.
But at the death, Onuachu scored to give Nigeria all three points. It came from a corner which caused a lot of problems for the Benin Republic defence.
A goal-mouth scramble ensued, and Onuachu, gangly and powerful, got on the end of the loose ball with his head.