Iheanacho Scores First Goal In Three Years As Super Eagles Draw With Tunisia

Kelechi Iheanacho scored his first international goal in nearly three years as the Super Eagles battled to a 1-1 draw against Tunisia on Friday.

Iheanacho was last on the score sheet for the Super Eagles in a friendly against Argentina in November 2017, but opened the scoring against the Carthage Eagles in the 20th minute.

The striker and his teammates celebrated by taking the knee in a nod to ongoing protests in Nigeria against Police brutality.

The Leicester City forward could have capped his first start for the national team in nearly two years with a brace but his weak 30th minute penalty was saved by Tunisia goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha who atoned for conceding the spot kick when he hacked down Ahmed Musa.

Mohammed Drager drew Tunisia level just before half time, tapping home unmarked after Hamza Rafia easily went past Kenneth Omeruo who had started in place of William Troost-Ekong.

Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr made five changes from the loss to Algeria for the match against Tunisia whom Nigeria beat the last they met in the bronze medal match at the 2019 AFCON.

Kevin Akpoguma made his full debut while Zaidu Sanusi and Maduka Okoye kept their places as did Samuel Chukwueze, Alex Iwobi, Semi Ajayi and Leon Balogun.

Iheanacho started in place of Paul Onuachu while skipper Musa and winger Moses Simon also came into the starting line up.

Rohr was roundly criticised for the Eagles’ disjointed showing against African champions Algeria and while his team was not exactly fluid against Tunisia, they were more assertive in attack and used the ball better although on the evidence of Tuesday, there still remains a massive scope for improvement.

Tunisia’s game plan seemed to centre on physicality and they impeded the Super Eagles forcefully in possession.

One such illegal stoppage resulted in a free kick that fashioned Nigeria’s first chance in the 12th minute but Akpoguma’s goal bound shot was blocked by a desperate lunge from a Tunisian defender.

The Carthage Eagles were bossing possession but the Super Eagles were more threatening with Chukwueze and Sanusi hitting long range efforts that sailed wide of the opposition goal.

Ajayi then released Iheanacho with an excellent threaded pass in the 20th minute but the striker was slow in reaching the ball and his attempt to square for the onrushing Musa was snuffed out.

The 24-year-old striker, however, scored just moments later, latching on to Musa’s flick on from Sanusi’s throw in, shielding the ball before turn to finish with aplomb beyond a helpless Ben Mustapha.

It was his 9th goal in 26 caps and he was presented the opportunity to enter double figures for international goals but fluffed his lines from 12 yards out.

Iwobi through pass put Musa through on goal but the Eagles skipper was crudely hacked down by Ben Mustapha with the referee awarding a penalty and booking the Tunisian goalkeeper.

Iheanacho stepped up to take the spot kick but despite pausing in his run up to gauge the keeper’s intention, still played a tepid effort to the exact spot of the keeper’s dive.

The miss proved costly later on as Tunisia drew level just before half time as the defensive frailties evident in the loss to Algeria reared its head once again.

Centre back Omeruo was beaten far too easily by Rafia who glided past the defender on the line to centre for left back Drajer who was left unmarked in the box.

More chances fell Nigeria’s way after the interval as the impressive Iheanacho rose highest to meet Chukwueze’s corner but steered the ball narrowly over.

Simon then showed great defensive awareness to deflect Drajer’s effort on to the side netting as the Tunisian’s attacked straight after. 

Rohr threw on Genk striker Cyriel Dessers and CSKA Moscow winger Chidera Ejuke for their debuts late on with the latter showing bright sparks while the former was virtually anonymous.

Tunisia nearly snatched the win at the death but Okoye pulled off a magnificent save to ensure both sides left with a share of the spoils.

Rohr billed the friendlies as a test for the players ahead of next month’s AFCON qualifiers against Sierra Leone and the coach would have been impressed with Okoye who, in just his second start and third appearance, has acquitted himself well in the fight to seal the number one jersey.

Iwobi was excellent once again, and after being out in the cold for the longest time, Iheanacho grabbed his chances with both hands as a stand in striker in the absence of Victor Osimhen.