Substitute Odion Ighalo scored with his first real touch of the game to earn Nigeria’s Super Eagles a hard-earned 1-0 win over Africa Cup of Nations debutants Burundi in their opening game in Alexandria on Saturday.
The Nigerians had suffered from a noxious lack of cutting edge for most parts of the game until the China-based forward, Ighalo who was indeed a shock omission from the starting lineup came off to replace Paul Onuachu and provided an emphatic finish to Ola Aina’s exquisite pass thirteen minutes from time.
The Burundians have every right to be disappointed though after rattling their more illustrious opponents in the first half although a shinning light in the Nigerian team; Samuel Chukwueze kept them on their toes at the back throughout the encounter.
FT: Nigeria 1-0 Burundi
Nigeria have won their opening game in the AFCON for the first time since 2006 when Egypt hosted the competition.
— ACLSports (@acl_sports) June 22, 2019
Chukwueze announced his arrival on the big stage very quickly when he evaded three of his markers but his effort was charged down by defender Frederic Nsabiyumva to make for an easy catch for goalkeeper Jonathan Nahimana.
The Central Africans should however have scored in the 16th minute through Cedric Amissi who latched onto a brilliant pass by Saido Berahino. The forward’s volley was well saved by goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.
Burundi went closer in the 38th minute through a header by centre back David Nshimirimana but the effort came off the cross bar before Nigeria lost right back Abdullahi Shehu to injury; Chidozie Awaziem replacing him.
After Nigerian captain John Mikel Obi (who had missed a glorious chance from a header in the first half) was replaced in the 57th minute by Ahmed Musa, Gernot Rohr’s Eagles became more fluid with more movements in the attacking areas.
Chukwueze embarked on a solo run, dusting four Burundians aside but his chipped effort from sixteen yards went over the bar. With Burundi at this point having genuine hopes of escaping with a point, there was ecstasy among millions of Nigerians watching across the globe though in the 77th minute.
Ola Aina found himself in a central position and released Ighalo with a cheeky back heel. The striker’s anticipation and awareness was appropriate and he curled a well executed effort beyond Nahimana to give Nigeria their first win in an AFCON opening game since Egypt hosted in 2006.
Super Eagles and Egypt!
Win first game in AFCON since it was last staged there in 2006.
Unearthing the star of the coming generation in Samuel Chukwueze, same way it was in 2006 in Mikel.
On the verge of retiring our Number 10 as it was with Jay-Jay Okocha in 2006. #AFCON2019
— Fisayo Dairo (@FisayoDairo) June 22, 2019
Up next for the Super Eagles is their second game in Group B against Guinea in same stadium on Wednesday.
Nigeria lineup vs Burundi:
Akpeyi; Shehu (Awaziem 42′), Omeruo, Ekong, Ola Aina; Ndidi, Etebo, Mikel (57′); Iwobi, Chukwueze, Onuachu (Ighalo 44′)
GOAL: Odion Ighalo 77′