The home-based Super Eagles of Nigeria Saturday defeated Ivory Coast 4-1 in the African Nations Cup Championship qualifier.
The first leg match was played in Kano, northwest Nigeria.
Sunday Mba was man of the match as he scored a brace in the encounter.
Ivory Coast pulled a goal back before the Eagles increased the tally to 4-1.
The Eagles started brightly in the game at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium and looked to be heading for a feast on the Ivoriens after 30 minutes.
But the Ivoriens exploited the Nigerian side’s defensive frailty to peg them back and kept the game on a tentative edge, until Mba’s intervention.
After even exchanges, with the best being a 12th minute scare when Godfrey Oboabona cleared Assale Roger’s effort from the Nigerian goal-line, the Eagles took the game in hand a minute later.
From a quick offensive down the middle by the duo of Gomo Onduku and Ezekiel Mbah in the 13th minute, the Eagles caught their opponents on the back foot.
Gambo Mohammed then ran in from the left to swiftly turn at the edge of the box for a low shot to the far side, past goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo.
The goal was a tonic to ginger the Eagles as they swarmed all over the Elephants, with Onduku and Mbah running down the flanks.
With Mba, Ayo Saka and Oladapo Olufemi struggling to hold their own in the middle, the Eagles held the advantage and went on to extend their lead 15 minutes later.
Mba ran down the right to connect a high Oboabona pass from the left flank, and lifted a high pullout to the far side.
The Ivorian defensive pair of Akesse Kassi and Baresi Gloudoueu failed to deal with the ball and a running Mba stepped in to blast into goal for the second.
After Kevin Zougoula (34th minute, Cote d’Ivoire) and Mohammed (37th minute, Nigeria) saw their efforts ruled offside, the Ivorians reduced the Nigerian steam by cutting the lead seven minutes later.
Roger tore into the middle through the right, and with the pair of Oboabona and Azubuike Egwuekwe retreating, he found enough space to slip the ball through to the left.
Tiecoura Coulibaly was unsighted as he ghosted past Solomon Kwambe to push a low one past Chigozie Agbim for the Ivorian lone goal.
Mba restored Nigeria’s two-goal lead in the 53rd minute from the penalty spot, after Kwambe’s high ball into the Ivorian goal area was handled.
However, the Elephants, who were by now reduced to nine men after Roger’s 52nd minute sending-off for dissent and Gloudoueu’s 54th minute expulsion for a bookable offence, grew in confidence.
They stifled the Eagles’ offensive play, which was, however, bereft of ideas, with tight defending led by skipper Mahan Goua.
With the clock winding down, the nine Ivorians looked to be enjoying themselves against the desperate Eagles and they were even looking more likely to reduce the Nigerian lead.
But Mba was to show he was not the golden boy of Nigeria’s AFCON 2013 triumph last February in South Africa for nothing, with his motivating offensive play.
In the 83rd minute, he waltzed into the Ivorian penalty area from the right for an exquisite low pass from substitute Ifeanyi Ede to latch onto and round a defender before scoring Nigeria’s fourth.
The second leg tie will hold in Abidjan on July 27 with the Eagles needing to avoid a 0-3 defeat to advance.
The 2014 CHAN is billed for South Africa.