Nigeria won its opening game at the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 2006 and it came courtesy of a lone strike by substitute Odion Ighalo against debutants Burundi.
The game was truly as cagey but Burundi had better chances of taking an early lead or even causing an upset.
2006 – The Super Eagles recorded a win in their opening AFCON match for the first time since a 1-0 win over Ghana in 2006. Odion.
— Opta Nigeria (@OptaNGR) June 22, 2019
Les Hirondelles did not lose a game in the qualifying campaign of the AFCON 2019 and they looked poise to prove they deserved to be here.
They showed agility, speed and hunger pushing the Super Eagles back for the most part of the first-half and drawing saves from Daniel Akpeyi with stinging shots – point blank and from range.
If the Super Eagles showed one quality on Saturday at the Alexandria Stadium it was maturity and experience, bidding their time and containing their more exuberant opponents.
A goalless first-half didn’t prompt any immediate tactical response from the either Coaches, until the 58th – although Shehu Abdullahi’s injury had forced a change by Gernot Rohr.
It was Rohr who would blink first as he yanked off his captain – to the dismay of the player who reluctantly exchanged pleasantries with gaffer in the technical area afterwards.
His replacement, Ahmed Musa brought some verve as the Eagles aimed to take flight; as if the idea of a two edition absence from the AFCON had only just sunk in.
Several brilliant runs were initiated by the speedster, Musa, on the left as Samuel Chukwueze had done all day on the right.
The passes picked up pace and there was some urgency to the play as Iwobi switched to the crown of a three-man midfield.
Yet, something wasn’t clicking up front and it was only a matter of time before the Rohr undid the shocker he pulled when he started Paul Onuachu ahead of Odion Ighalo.
That substitution came 15 minutes after the first and Ighalo immediately showed some poise and busied the Burundi defenders.
Four minutes later, BANG! A beauty of a goal set up by one of the most sumptuous assists seen in the early days of the competition.
Ola Aina showed good technique and vision, picking out Ighalo with a perfect back heel pass. The ball evaded the outstretched leg of a defender to fall graciously in front of Ighalo who had hesitated on a different move.
The forward was the top scorer in the qualifiers and it wasn’t for nothing as he showed he wasn’t about to slow down. He curled the ball past the on-rushing goalkeeper; it was a fine strike worthy of the assist provided.
Very few meaningful attacking play will follow that by Super Eagles, but on the other end, Burundi did not stop pushing.
They unnerved the Nigerian goalie and his defenders, but couldn’t pull a leveler as Nigeria ran out 1-0 winners to go top of Group B.
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