Osimhen’s hat-trick sees himself and Super Eagles finish AFCON campaign as winners

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Ballon d’Or nominee Victor Osimhen netted a hat-trick that took his tally to 10 in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, and also ensured Nigeria finished as group winners in the race to Cote d’Ivoire.

Having drubbed their opponents 10-0 in both teams’ first encounter in the Moroccan city of Agadir in June 2022, the Eagles, who had already qualified for the finals no matter the scoreline, were in no danger on the lush turf of Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo.

They expectedly started on the front foot, in front of a capacity crowd of 30,000 spectators, but Semi Ajayi’s firm header off a corner kick by Kelechi Iheanacho in the second minute was punched away by goalkeeper Ronaldo Silva.

Silva was by far the busiest of the two goalies on the night, and had to be alert and active four minutes later as England-based forward Taiwo Awoniyi turned and struck a fierce one inside the box. He would however, have no answer when Osimhen, with seven goals in five previous qualifying matches, rose above the defence to head in from close range off a corner kick by Ademola Lookman.

Awoniyi’s header missed narrowly three minutes later, but the visiting goal-tender again had to pick the ball from his net in the 27th minute when Lookman received a pass from on-field captain Wilfred Ndidi and sashayed past two defenders before tucking it past the goalie for Nigeria’s second of the evening.

Seven minutes into the second half, Awoniyi had the crowd on his feet when he chested a flick by Iheanacho and blasted past Silva from close range.

Everything was on a roll and Osimhen scored his ninth goal of the qualifying campaign in the 70th minute, when he won and converted a penalty kick with Silva sent the wrong way.

With 10 minutes left, the goal king did his Ballon d’Or nomination no harm with a third goal after a flowing move that had substitute Samuel Chukwueze and Awoniyi contributing.

There was still time for Chukwueze to score a sixth, with five minutes left, after he was picked out by fellow substitute Victor Boniface on the left side of the visitors’ defence.

Osimhen deservedly won MTN’s Most Valuable Player of the Match award and pocketed the sum of N1 million naira, while Lookman was selected the Man of the Match and picked up a cheque for N1 million from Nigerian Breweries PLC.

Next up for the Super Eagles is a 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Lesotho’s Crocodiles also in Uyo on 17 November.           

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