The Super Eagles of Nigeria have booked a slot in the second round of the ongoing African Cup of Nations with a comfortable 3-1 win over the Falcons of Sudan.
Two first-half goals from Samuel Chukwueze and Taiwo Awoniyi plus a Moses Simon strike in the second ensured the Eagles maintained a strong grasp of Group D leadership with six points from their first two matches. The Sudanese pulled back a goal from the penalty spot in the second half of the encounter.
The Eagles kept the same starting 11 that did brilliantly against the Pharaohs last Tuesday and they started with a fast tempo, pinning the Sudanese in their half. Samuel Chukwueze scored the opening goal after just three minutes when he coolly slotted past the Sudanese goalkeeper after a precise pass from Moses Simon.
The Falcons tried to hit back immediately but Yasin Hamed was slightly offside from a pass from Abdelrazig Omer in the eighth minute. Thereafter the Super Eagles took control, passing the ball around even though they were guilty of some wayward passes.
Mohamed Al Rashed tried his luck from 25 yards but Maduka Okoye made comfortable diving save for the cameras. Coach Augustine Eguavoen could be seen on the touchline gesticulating to his players to speed up the play as the tempo went down a notch.
Nigeria should have doubled her lead in the 36th minute but Ali Abu-Eshrein made the point-blank save. Taiwo Awoniyi, for the second time in the tournament, hit the woodwork as the Eagles pushed for a second in the 40th minute. Awoniyi then created a gilt-edged scoring chance for Joe Aribo to score his first AFCON goal, but he stabbed his effort wide when it looked easier to score.
The Union Berlin forward was not to be denied as the ball went off his head, though fortuitously, from a header by Troost-Ekong to give Nigeria a 2-0 lead on the cusp of half time . It was Awoniyi’s first goal for his country in his third appearance.
The first half stats for the Eagles read 61 per cent ball possession; 11 goal attempts with six on target; and two corners.
The Eagles soon had their third goal as Simon got his due when he followed in his scooped pass to Awoniyi. He finished low beyond the despairing grasp of Ali Abu-Eshrein.
Awoniyi was gift-wrapped a chance in the 52nd minute when Sudan’s captain, Salaheldin Nemer, misjudged his header and the ball fell to Awoniyi but his shot was diverted for a corner. Okoye conjured a heart-in-mouth in the 58th minute when he dropped a high ball but he quickly redeemed the gaffe by grabbing the ball.
South Africa referee Victor Gomes was sent to the VAR monitor in the 69th minute to check a possible penalty which he awarded after Ola Aina was penalised for holding on to a Sudanese player from a corner kick. Soft decision but Aina gave the referee a decision to make.
Walieldin Khedr sent Okoye the wrong way to register Sudan’s first goal at an AFCON tournament since 2012.
Substitute Kelechi Nwakali shot straight at Abu-Eshrein from a freekick in the 72nd minute. Another shooting chance was fashioned for Awoniyi in the 74th minute, off a pass from Iwobi, but he shot wide.
A defensive mixup between Omeruo and Okoye almost gave Sudan a second goal with nine minutes left on the clock. Awoniyi went off for Umar Sadiq. Umar crashed into Nemer and both needed medical attention on the pitch.
In the end, it was a comfortable win for the three-time champions as they confirmed their slot in the round of 16. Their last group match is against Guinea Bissau on January 19.