Iheanacho grabs late winner as Nigeria qualify for Cup of Nations
Iheanacho struck five minutes into added time by pushing a low Zaidu Sanusi cross over the goal line.
Iheanacho Kelechi of Nigeria (centre) celebrates a goal. (EPA/Samuel Shivambu)
Victor Osimhen scored twice and Kelechi Iheanacho snatched an added-time winner as Nigeria edged Sierra Leone 3-2 in an Africa Cup of Nations thriller on Sunday to qualify for the finals.
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Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Mali also booked places at the African showpiece from January 13 in the Ivory Coast, raising the number of qualifiers to 14.
Hosts the Ivory Coast, holders Senegal, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia had already secured places for the 24-team finals.
Nigeria needed a draw in Liberia — the temporary home of Sierra Leone as they do not have an international-standard stadium — to clinch qualification on matchday five.
The Super Eagles made a strong start, building a two-goal lead within 32 minutes thanks to Napoli star Osimhen.
Top scorer in the last Serie A season, the 24-year-old has been linked with Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.
Iheanacho’s first goal came from a perfectly weighted lob over 18-year-old goalkeeper Ibrahim Sesay and he later pushed the ball into the net in a goalmouth scramble.
Sierra Leone pulled one goal back before half-time thanks to Mustapha Bundu and levelled through Augustus Kargbo with six minutes of regular time remaining.
Iheanacho, whose Leicester City team were relegated from the Premier League last month, struck five minutes into added time by pushing a low Zaidu Sanusi cross over the goal line.
Nigeria and Sierra Leone often produce drama when they meet with the visiting Leone Stars wiping out a four-goal deficit after 29 minutes to draw 4-4 in a 2021 Cup of Nations qualifier.
The result meant Guinea-Bissau, who beat Sao Tome e Principe in midweek, qualified from Group A with three-time champions Nigeria.
– Ghana slip up –
Cape Verde, an island nation with a population of about 600,000, secured a fourth appearance at the Cup of Nations thanks to a 3-1 home win over Burkina Faso in Group B.
Joao Paulo put the Blue Sharks ahead a second time midway through the second half and Euclides ‘Cle’ Andrade scored a late third goal in Praia.
Mali clinched a ninth straight appearance at the tournament thanks to a 2-0 Group G victory over Congo in Brazzaville.
Ibrahima Kone broke the deadlock after 62 minutes and Nene Dorgeles scored 11 minutes later for the Eagles.
Congo must win away to second-placed Gambia in September to accompany Mali to the Ivory Coast at the expense of the surprise 2021 quarter-finals.
Ghana squandered a chance to qualify when held 0-0 in Antananarivo by Madagascar, who are doomed to finish bottom of Group E.
The stalemate leaves two points separating four-time champions Ghana, Angola and the Central African Republic with two qualifying places up for grabs in the final round.
Parading a Premier League trio in the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, and Thomas Partey, the Black Stars were denied an added-time penalty when Mohammed Kudus appeared to be fouled.
Tanzania took a three-point lead over east African rivals Uganda in the race to finish runners-up behind Group F winners Algeria, who boast the only 100 percent in qualifying.
Simon Msuva scored on 69 minutes to earn Tanzania a 1-0 win over Niger in Dar es Salaam while Uganda fell 2-1 in Douala to 2019 champions Algeria, whose goals came from Mohamed Amoura.
The Democratic Republic of Congo rose from last to first in Group I after a 2-0 away win over Gabon, who lured Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of international retirement for the match.