The home-based Super Eagles got a deserved 4-1 victory over the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire in a CHAN qualifier yesterday at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna.
The CHAN qualifier started at a slow pace though the Eagles dominated possession in the early minutes of the game but was sparked into life in the 14th minute when Gambo Mohammed swiveled on the edge of the box and let fly a left-footer which beat the Elephants' goalkeeper. That was Gambo's first goal in only his second outing for the national team.
A solo run from Sunday Mba was cut short as Gambo ran into an offside position. Two minutes later, a long ball from Godfrey Oboabona found Ezekiel Mbah on the right wing and his first time cross was met by a half volley from Sunday Mba and that threw the crowd into delirium.
The Super Eagles thought they had scored the third in the 38th minute when another swift counter between Sunday Mba and Ezekiel Mba from the right saw another cross perfectly headed in by Gambo but he was adjudged offside though the call had to be marginal at best.
The second half started with the Eagles making a change. Gomo Onduku was pulled off for Ifeanyi Edeh as Coach Stephen Keshi wanted to add more impetus in attack.
Two red cards within two minutes changed the game to the advantage of the Eagles. A CIV defender was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area off a corner kick and a penalty was awarded. Sunday Mba stepped forward and calmly slotted the ball past the goalkeeper.
Too much protestation saw a red card issued. Another quickly followed as Baresi was shown a second yellow card for a violent foul on Sunday Mba. It was all Super Eagles after that as they pressed their two-man advantage and were continually camped in the Elephants' half of the pitch.
Ayo Saka was substituted by Emeka Eze in the 60th minute while Sunday Mba went on a good run but chipped over the goalkeeper and over the bar. It was more about damage limitations from then on for the Elephants as they had only Kevin Zougoula upfront though he troubled the defence once in a while.
Finally the Eagles made their advantage pay in the 85th minute when a strong run down the right by Sunday Mba saw the Rangers man pull the ball back for Ifenyi Edeh to walk the ball in for the fourth goal. The Eagles will believe they have done the hard part but the Elephants cannot be ruled out with the second leg to be played in Abidjan in two weeks' time.