Emmanuel Emenike’s brace had Nigeria record a 2-1 win in Ethiopia in the first-leg of the 2014 Fifa World Cup African third round qualifier played at the Addis Ababa Stadium on Sunday.
The Fenerbahce of Turkey striker pulled the Super Eagles back from a one-goal deficit, conceded some minutes within the restart, with a moment of individual brilliance and slotted in the match-winner from the penalty spot, after being pulled down by Ethiopian defender Aynalem Hailu.
Behailu Assefa, who gave the host the lead, was immediately cautioned for taking off his shirt while celebrating.
The much-talked-about encounter lived up to its expectation as the Nigerians left it for the closing stages to prove their mettle against a hard-fighting coach Sewnet Bishaw’s team.
Coach Stephen Keshi made no change to the starting lineup which saw off the ‘Flames’ of Malawi in Calabar last month, leaving Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa in the frontline.
Nigeria got off to a slow start as the host dictated a well motivated possession game, opening up Super eagles’ defence in some critical moments but failed to inspire that killer touch.
Musa’s free-kick in the 19th minute was shortchanged for a corner after goalkeeper Jemal Tassew failed to collect at the far post.
Emenike then found Nnamdi Oduamadi unmarked on the left side of the box but the Fifa Confederation Cup revelation skewed the ball wide.
The Ethiopians are not known for given in cheaply to visitors and they continued to muster some fine link-up play. They were right in the Nigerians area struggling to get an opening goal with prolific striker, Adane Girma, sending a weak effort straight at Vincent Enyeama from the right in the 23rd minute.
The Nigerian goal-tender, Enyeama, was soon beaten by a Salhadin Said effort only for Godfrey Obaobona to clear the ball off the line.
The high altitude and the bumpy pitch at the stadium told on the players- especially the Nigerians who largely ply their trade in the sweet terrain of their European clubs- hence; the referee gave a bit of stoppage in play for a quick water break.
On resumption, the Ethiopians kept pilling forward while Nigeria struggled to take control. Girma’s shot after another swift attack went wide of the upright and blasted another over the crossbar.
Nigeria managed to keep the hosts at bay in the closing minutes of the first-half with Emenike pulling the strings in the attack.
The Eagles failed to make the best of some set pieces while Enyeama was called into action in first-half regulation time, parrying Said’s shot from the left.
The visitors upped the tempo after the interval but were still lacking the effort to open up space in the Ethiopians half. The midfield battle was far beyond neither sides’ reach with John Obi Mikel trying to subdue his markers, who were rather hash on the Chelsea player.
The hosts registered the opening goal 11 minutes after the restart when Assefa’s cross from left crossed the line despite Enyeama’s late catch, which was not enough for the Cameroonian match official.
Coach Keshi took time to ring in some changes while the players on the pitch started to connect with the game, as if the goal came as a reminder of their commitment to the nation.
It took an individual skill from Emenike to pull back the one-goal deficit, holding off his marker before firing into the back of the net from outside the box 11 minutes after the Eagles conceded.
If the goal was a wake-up call, the equaliser was an antidote to some early sluggish play from Keshi’s boys with the Fenerbahce striker running the whole length of the opponents’ half.
Musa’s shot in the 77th minute, after been put through on goal at the right came off the upright just minutes after they had a penalty claim rejected by the referee for a foul on the CSKA Moscow man.
Ethiopia tried to restore the lead as the proceedings entered its last ten minutes with substitute, Addis Hintsa, sending his header from a corner wide at the near post and Egwuekwe in hand to make a great clearance off a Said effort in the box.
But it was Nigeria who had the last laugh, when Hailu needlessly brought Emenike down in the area, for the striker to coolly slot home his incisive effort from the six-yard spot in the nick of full-time.
Ethiopia pressed for a late equaliser but the African Champions held on to a worthy victory and a two away-goal advantage, ahead of Saturday, November 16 return leg.