The Super Eagles team have qualified for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon after Lesotho and Sierra Leone played out a 0-0 draw on Saturday.
The three-time African champions have eight points from four games, the Republic of Benin have seven points while the Leone Stars and the Crocodiles have four and three points, respectively, from five games.
Nigeria have now qualified for their 19th appearance in the continental showpiece with two games on hand prior to the game against Benin yesterday.
Nigeria had defeated Benin in Porto Novo, with a stoppage-time winner from second-half substitute Paul Onuachu.
Onuachu secured all the points with a powerful header three minutes into added time, ensuring that the Squirrels will have to avoid defeat away in Freetown on Tuesday to be sure of a place in Cameroon.
The Eagles had edged the Squirrels 2-1 when both teams met in Uyo 16 months ago.
There was not much to cheer in a tepid first half, which saw only Henry Onyekuru’s snap header pushed out by the impressive goalkeeper Saturnin Allagbé as the major talking point. Not a hugely interesting afternoon for a sparse crowd of just 200 people, a restriction forced on the host nation by CAF as part of coronavirus –curtailing measures.
Former U17 World Cup winners Kelechi Iheanacho, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze led the fore for Nigeria, assisted by Henry Onyekuru, but the Super Eagles did not exactly press for an avalanche of goals on an afternoon they already knew their flight to Cameroon was booked.
Two minutes into the second half, Chukwueze and Onyekuru failed to decide on who was better –placed to strike in the box, with Onyekuru eventually sending the ball sky-high. Five minutes later, the hosts came very close when William Ekong allowed an onrushing defender to get a leg to the ball and heave it above goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, missing the net by inches.
Osimhen, all strength and purpose, shot narrowly over the sticks in the 54th minute, and then struck the upright two minutes later as Nigeria switched into second gear.
In the 62nd minute, Okoye flung himself full –length to thwart a glancing header from slipping into the net, and in the 90th minute, Osimhen forced a good save from Allagbé with a powerful header.
Onuachu, on the field for 20 minutes after replacing Iheanacho, was gifted a gold –plated opportunity to score only his second goal for Nigeria as the ball rose high in the box following Victor Osimhen’s attempt from a Samuel Chukwueze’s corner kick.
The Super Eagles finished third at the last edition of the continental tournament in Egypt, behind winners Algeria and Senegal but had emerged champions in 1980, 1994 and 2013, where they won the highly coveted trophy.
The West African side remain the team with the most bronze medal at the tournament, winning it eight times where they will hope to clinch their fourth title at the 2022 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon.