Captain Yacine Brahimi scored a late penalty as Algeria held Nigeria 1-1 in their final 2018 World Cup qualifier in Constantine on Friday night.
Nigeria had taken the lead just after the hour mark through midfielder John Ogu who curled into the top corner from 25 yards shortly after Algerian defender Aissa Mandi had missed a glorious effort to give his side the lead.
Nigeria already assured of a place in Russia were however denied full points when Gabonese referee Eric Otogo-Castane pointed to the spot four minutes from time for an invisible foul on Algerian captain Brahimi.
The Porto star stroked the ball into the net and Algeria almost won it late on through substitute Baghdad Bounedjah who headed Brahimi’s corner over when unmarked inside the box.
Both teams went into the game in contrasting fortunes, the Nigerians had won the group while the Algerians had sealed their bottom position in the Group.
Algeria were starting a new chapter of their erratic national team managerial position with former footballer Rabah Madjer placed in charge of the side which had failed spectacularly to build on their displays at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Madjer was without first choice talents including goalkeeper Rais Mbholi, defender Faozi Ghoulam and midfielder Nabil Bentaleb for his first assignment back in charge of the team.
The Nigerian side was also more hit with injuries with no fewer than six first team absentees in the team allowing for the full debuts of defender Ola Aina and striker Anthony Nwakaeme.
The game started with the hosts almost taking the lead within the opening 30 seconds but Leicester striker Islam Slimani could not get his header on to Aissa Mandi’s cross on target.
The Algerians threatened once more on the quarter hour mark when Brahimi’s corner kick was cleared only as far as defender Carl Medjani whose half volley from 25 yards whistled just wide.
Nigeria were presented with a half chance on 21 minutes when Kelechi Iheanacho whipped in a dangerous free kick near the right flank corner flag. His effort however eluded everyone inside the penalty box.
Much of the remaining thirty minutes of the half were played in a stop-start manner with players from both sides struggling to cope with the bumpy and irregular nature of the Stade Mohamed Hamlaoui turf.
Anthony Nwakaeme had the first half’s only two attempts on target, the second a well struck volley on the turn which Algerian goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi had no problems handling.
After a largely dour first half, both teams became brighter in the second as they look to bring forward a goal which could enliven things.
Not until the hour mark before we witnessed the game’s best chance yet. Nigeria goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa mishandled Yacine Brahimi’s corner but defender Mandi somehow headed over when it looked easier to hit the target.
They were made to rue their miss seconds later when Nigeria scored through midfielder John Ogu. The Hapoel Be’er Sheva star was at the end of Farouk Chafai’s clearance, controlled the ball with his first touch, with his second curled an unstoppable one beyond goalkeeper Chaouchi.
It was such an important way for Ogu to mark his first start for the national team in four years.
Just five minutes after Nigeria’s goal, Algeria again squandered a goal scoring opportunity, this time through Islam Slimani.
With Mandi consistently finding space down the right flank, his square ball was missed by the entire Nigerian defence as well as Ezenwa but the Leicester forward inexplicably hit the ball wide with an open net gaping in front of him.
Captain Yacine Brahimi was lucky to remain on the pitch after an headbutt incident with Nigerian full back Shehu Abdullahi. The Gabonese referee however decided to book him instead of an outright dismissal.
The referee then took his controversial decisions to another level when he awarded a penalty to the hosts with five minutes left. In a decision which bewildered even Brahimi, Mr Eric Otogo-Castane pointed to the spot after Shehu and Brahimi came together on the box with the former falling while attempting to chase the latter.
Brahimi hit his spot kick straight down the middle and the Foxes almost secured a winner late on but Bounedjah headed Brahimi’s corner over.
The result leaves both teams as they were before the game and the Nigerians will now proceed to Krasnodar, Russia where they will face Argentina in a friendly next Tuesday.