By John Egbokhan
A spectacularly hit free kick by Moses Daddy-Ajala Simon and a sublime volley by Efe Ambrose yesterday edged a wasteful Super Eagles side to a hard-fought 2—0 win over Swaziland in a second round second leg 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia match in Port Harcourt.
On a day the Eagles squandered scores of chances at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, they were still able to hold out for the all-important win to progress to the group stage of the CAF qualification series for the next World Cup.
And for the first time since taking over the Eagles, Coach Sunday Oliseh took bold decisions by relegating regular starters, Mikel Obi of Chelsea, Elderson Echiejile of Monaco and Godfrey Oboabona to the substitutes bench
In their places, Oliseh handed starting places to Sunshine Stars midfielder Paul Onobi, Chima Akwa of relegated Sharks and Abia Warriors captain and defender, Austin Oboroakpo.
Having been held to a barren draw in the first leg four days back in Lobamba, the three-time African champions were well aware of the proposition they were facing as anything but an outright win would spell doom for Nigerian football.
For a country still seething over the team’s failure to qualify for the last Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, only a progress to the next round of the World Cup qualifying campaign would assuage an insatiable fans, who packed the Adokiye Amiesimaka stadium to see their stars rain in the goals against the Swazis, who however, stood firm, foiling Eagles scoring attempts.
As early as the 11th minute, Odion Ighalo laid a pass to Moses Simon, whose tame shot was easily stopped by Gwedu in goal for Swaziland. On 28 minute, captain Ahmed Musa failed to break down the Swazis defence led by Shibusiso Bolani.
Still probing for the opener, Ogenyi Onazi’s precise pass for Ighalo, was sent wide by the Watford striker on 30 minute. It was the best scoring chance by the Eagles in the first half.
And a minute later, Sylvester Igbonu saw his shot go agonisingly wide as Eagles got closer to opening the account.
And to the surprise of the fans, Swaziland launched a counter a minute later, slicing open the Eagles defence as goalkeeper Carl Ikeme watched with awe as Sinosa Sadhile blew a gilt-edged opportunity to put the visitors in front.
That was the best chance of the first half. It ignited the Eagles to launch their own attacking forays but the likes of Ighalo, Simon, Musa, Igbonu all failed to make the most of the chances. Namibian referee stopped the match after four minutes of injury time.
On resumption of the second half, Igbonu, combining well with the creative Onobi in midfield was hacked down close to the box of the Swazis.
It was 51 minutes on the clock as the duo of Igbonu and Simon stood behind the ball, with fans at a loss as to who was going to hit the ball. Simon, who plays for AAA Gent of Belgium went forward, struck the ball and it weaved and landed at the back of the Swazi net. First goal for Eagles as fans went wild to celebrate the curtain raiser. Coach Oliseh was relieved at last. His gamble had paid off. He also took out Musa and brought in Obafemi Martins. Simon was also replaced with an home-based player.
They begged for more but Swaziland curtailed the Eagles. They also tried to catch the Eagles on the break with Ikeme being called to the rescue eight minutes from time when a Swazi player hit a long-range shot that was goal-bound.
In the closing stages, defender Efe Ambrose capped a good game with a brilliant goal for the Eagles. Igbonu was the provider as the Eagles put daylight between themselves and their foes to notch a deserved 2-0 win.