On a day the Super Eagles badly needed a win to restore them to the good graces of Nigerians, defender Leon Balogun rose to the occasion.
On the stroke of 28 minutes, the Eagles who had tirelessly worked to open their goals account got lucky as Balogun, who daintily waltzed into the Les Fauves final third, blasted home for his first goal for the Eagles in his seven years sojourn with the senior national team.
The Eagles would double their lead 16 minutes later through sleeky forward, Victor Osimhen.
The win in Douala on Sunday kept the Super Eagles in control of the pool with two matches to go.
The Les Fauves stunned the Eagles with a stoppage –time goal in the first leg in Lagos on Thursday to pick up the three points on offer, and assumed a lot of confidence even before the start inside the Stade Japoma de Douala on Sunday afternoon.
Yet, the Eagles had the first opportunity to take the lead in the very first minute, but Kelechi Iheanacho blasted over the bar from a free kick 20yards out.
Les Fauves adopted a hyper-aggressive stance, which earned them a couple of yellow cards before the half hour. In the 28th minute, as Nigeria launched another onslaught, defender Leon Balogun sneaked into the box and finished with aplomb when the ball was floated in from the right. Iheanacho again shot over the bar when well-placed in the 38th minute
Much credit must go to Captain Ahmed Musa, who won his 101st cap on the day, for invoking zest and urgency in the Nigeria team, and just before the blast of Rwandan referee Louis Hakizimana for half time, Victor Osimhen swept home beyond goalkeeper Prince Samolah for Nigeria’s second goal from a William Ekong cross.
In the second half, Musa’s cut-in for Osimhen was well-read by Captain Saint-cyr Ngam-Ngam. In the 57th minute, Osimhen should have made it 3-0 after lifting the ball beyond goalkeeper Samolah, but Sadock Ndobe cleared on the line.
Chidera Ejuke, who came in for Musa in the 66th minute, continued from where he left off in the Lagos match, turning, twisting, dribbling and getting past defenders at will, but luck was on the Les Fauves’ side the two times he broke through and came face-to-face with Samolah.
With four minutes left, Osimhen shot too high from another brilliant move and pass by Ejuke. But the day was theirs and the Eagles were good for the three points, which took them to nine, two ahead of second –placed Cape Verde, who scored in stoppage time to defeat Liberia’s Lone Star 1-0 in Mindelo.
An elated Balogun said after the match:
“My first goal in seven years! I have been looking forward so much to it and I am happy it finally came, and on a day like this.”
On the flight back to Lagos aboard the Air Peace aircraft, the players celebrated Captain Musa who won his 101st cap on the day by standing round him as two other players held aloft a jersey signed by all his team mates.
The concluding round of matches (Day 5 and 6 games) are in November. The Eagles will travel to Monrovia to play Liberia, while Central African Republic fly to Mindelo to tackle the Blue Sharks on Day 5. On the final day, Nigeria host Cape Verde in Lagos while Liberia fly to Douala to play Central African Republic.