Abia Warriors striker, Chisom Chikatara, produced three moments of magic in the second-half to help the Super Eagles of Nigeria demolish West African neighbours, Niger Republic, 4-1 at the 2016 African Nations Championship on Monday in Kigali, Rwanda.
The 21-year-old grabbed a 90th minute hat-trick after coming in as a substitute – with Osas Okoro scoring the other – while the Menas got a consolation through Zakari Adebayor.
Following Tunisia’s 2-2 draw with Guinea in the other group game played earlier, the Nigerians needed nothing but victory to assume top-spot.
In the absence of suspended Abia Warriors skipper, Austin Oboroakpo, coach Sunday Oliseh started with Stephen Eze and Jamiu Alimi as his make-shift centre-back pairing – with skipper, Chima Akas and Etim Matthew completing the back four.
Sunshine Stars striker, Tunde Adeniji, got the nod ahead of Chikatara in attack, flanked by Prince Aggreh and Okoro.
But to the surprise of many, minnows Niger started brighter and stronger than the Nigerians who were unable to stamp their authority in the game.
The Eagles B team failed to find their rhythm – poor interchanges and moves devoid of creativity characterised the early stages.
Shooting Stars defender, Alimi got booked in the 10th minute leading to his early withdrawal and was replaced by Orji Kalu.
As the game progressed, the left flank of the Eagles was proving too hot for the Menas defence with Aggreh and Akas consistently showing their attacking prowess.
Aggreh made a beautiful solo run in the 15th minute which found Adeniji but Okoro was unable to find the net from close range.
Sunshine’s Aggreh once again displayed his slick feet and tricks few minutes later – his shoot however failed to beat the Nigerienne keeper.
Four minutes before half-time, Umar Youssuf tested Ikechukwu Ezenwa – with the Nigeria no 1 equal to the task.
Thirty seconds into the second half, Adeniji produced a beautiful cross which found the feet of an unmarked Okoro who wasted no time to put Nigeria in front.
With Adeniji largely ineffective and isolated throughout the game, Oliseh then sent in Chikatara in the 58th minute of play.
Chikatara made an immediate impact with only his second touch of the game to double the Eagles lead.
Okoro’s through pass found Chikatara who beat the offside trap before hitting a volley from 18 yards.
Adebayor reduced the deficit for Niger with a shocking screamer in the 80th minute.
While the Menas were still celebrating their goal and hoping for a famous comeback, Chikatara produced another beautiful finish two minutes later to restore Nigeria’s two-goal advantage.
As if that wasn’t enough, the third top-scorer at the just concluded Nigeria Professional Football League made it goal no 3 and Nigeria’s fourth with a fine finish from an Aggreh simple pass.
The victory took Nigeria to the top of group B on three points, followed by Tunisia and Guinea with one point each.