*WAFU winners gets $100,000
By Oluwole Francis
Super Eagles home-based team have advanced into the group stage of the 2017 WAFU Cup of Nations taking place in Ghana after they beat Sierra Leone 2-0 on Monday night in Cape Coast.
With the victory, Nigeria will now take on hosts Ghana in a Group A clash on Thursday before taking on Mali and Guinea who are the other teams in their group.
The Super Eagles’ first real attempt on goal only came in the 22nd minute, but Samuel Mathias fired his powerful shot inches over from 25-yards out.
Ten minutes later Sierra Leone’s Lahai Coker tried his luck from long range, but his stinging shot was well-saved by Ikechukwu Ezenwa who was keeping Nigeria in the game.
Neither side could break the deadlock before half time as the teams entered the tunnel locked at 0-0.
Five minutes into the second half Donald Wellington should have given Sierra Leone the lead when he found himself unmarked and in space 14-yards out, but he fired hopelessly wide.
Nigeria took control of the match after that and came close to scoring in the 55th minute when Uche Akas drove into the box from the left flank, but his thunderous 12-yard shot struck the side-netting.
Six minutes later Uche Akas drove into the box again and while his shot was on target this time, the Sierra Leone keeper was on hand to make a spectacular fingertip save to deny him.
In the 76th minute Amadu Barrie was gifted a golden opportunity to give the Leone Stars the lead when he broke through on goal, but with all the time in the world and just the keeper to beat, he failed to do so after shooting straight at Ikechukwu Ezenwa.
Three minutes later the action was at the other end of the park when Rabiu Ali let fly with a pile-driver from the edge of the box, but the Sierra Leone keeper made a good one-handed save turn the ball around post.
After a keen contest with the Leone Stars, Osas Okoro opened the gate of goal when he scored in the 84th minute before debutant Peter Eneji of Plateau United FC of Jos sealed victory in the 87th minute.
The Leone Stars started the game on the front foot aggressively attacking but were denied by the heroics of Eagles goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who severally stopped them from scoring.
Ezenwa made a couple of saves on Monday night to deny the hard fighting Sierra Leonean team. He was voted the Man of the Match and handed a prize foe his heroics.
The 2017 WAFU Cup of Nations will hold in Ghana from Saturday, 9th to Sunday 24th September, 2017.
16 teams divided into zone A and B will feature in the First Round with eight teams expected to go into the group stage (A and B).
The two groups will comprise four teams, with the first two teams advancing into the semi-finals.
The winner of the tournament will get $100,000. The runner-up will be rewarded with $50,000 while $25,000 will go to the team that finishes third.
Nigeria coach: Salisu Yusuf
Nigeria: 1. Ezenwa, 2. Okoro, 6. Eze, 5. Ariwachukwu, 3. Akas, 4. Aremu, 8. Ifeanyi, 10. Ali, 15. Mathias (7. Friday 65’), 9. Okpotu (11. Moses 52’), 18 Eduwo (14. Okechukwu 77’).
Sierra Leone coach: Aabubakar Tos Kamara
Sierra Leone: 16. Koroma, 2. K Fofanah, 3. Suma, 15. Dunia, 12. Allie, 13. Coker, 4. Sakila, 8. M Fofanah (19. Barrie 71’), 10. Vula, 11. Alpha (7. Sesay 57’), 9. Wellington.