Nigeria’s Super Eagles got their 2021 AFCON campaign to a brilliant start with a completely deserved 1-0 win over the Pharaohs of Egypt at the Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua, Cameroon in their Group D clash.
The Super Eagles came into the tournament with a relatively inexperienced side and a new head coach, with more than half of the squad playing in their first AFCON.
Austin Eguavoen’s boys flew out of the blocks in their Group D opener as they put pressure on the Egyptians early on and pinned them back to their half. The Egyptians were looking to play on the counter using the pace of captain Mohamed Salah and Trezeguet, but the Super Eagles midfield managed to cut out service to the dangerous duo.
Nigeria’s first big chance came the way of Nantes winger Moses Simon, but he scuffed his finish when well-placed to score.
When Kelechi Iheanacho got his own chance, he did not make such a mistake. A foray forward saw the ball played out from midfield to Moses Simon on the left wing, and the winger put in a dangerous cross which was half-cleared by Egypt’s Ahmed Hegazi. Joe Aribo kept the attack alive and recycled the ball by heading it towards Iheanacho who was just inside the box, and the Leicester forward took it down with his midriff before rifling home a superb half-volley into the top corner in the 30th minute. It was Iheanacho’s first goal on his AFCON debut for the Super Eagles.
As halftime approached, the Super Eagles were in the ascendancy and looked poised to double their advantage after a nice combination play between Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi reminiscent of their U-17 days, but Awoniyi’s effort was too close to goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy.
The Pharaohs seemed revitalised in the second half but struggled to break down a rigid Super Eagles backline excellently marshalled by veteran Kenneth Omeruo.
Awoniyi thought he had scored his first Super Eagles goal after his header from an excellent Ola Aina cross came off El Shenawy before bouncing off the underside of the crossbar and into the keeper’s waiting arms.
Egypt captain Salah came close to equalising for his side after he was played in, but Super Eagles goalkeeper Maduka Okoye was swiftly off his line to smother the shot and get a block in with his foot. Salah had a game to forget against Nigeria’s excellent defensive set-up and looked frustrated and isolated for long periods.
As the game drew to a close, Eguavoen handed debuts to Kelechi Nwakali and Sadiq Umar, and another substitute Chidera Ejuke was twice denied by El Shenawy in the closing stages. The excellent Omeruo picked up an injury and had to be stretchered off, with Semi Ajayi sent on in his place.
Nigeria have got their AFCON campaign to a perfect start with a fantastic performance and three points against Egypt to take an early lead in Group D. Their next game is on Saturday January 15th against Sudan.