West African rivals Coted’voire on Saturday edged Nigeria’s Under 23 side 1-0 in the Group B opener of the 2019 U23 Africa Cup of Nations (U23AFCON) at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo, Egypt.
Silas Gnaka controversially converted from the penalty spot with twenty minutes left on the clock, but the dismissal of Nigerian defender Olisa Ndah from the incident meant there was hardly going to be a way back for Nigeria.
Nigeria, defending champions of this Olympics qualifying tournament were without team captain and Most Valuable Player of the last edition Okechukwu Azubuike who was still being held by his club Istanbul Başaksehir.
Amapakabo was however able to list 2016 Rio Olympics stars Sincere Seth and Ndifreke Effiong in his starting lineup with the team led by former Under 17 World cup winner Kelechi Nwakali.
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The Ivorians dominated most parts of the first half but the Nigerians became stronger in the second especially with the introduction of Sunday Faleye and Sunusi Ibrahim.
Nigeria went close through Orji Okwonkwo whose header in the 65th minute to an Nwakali corner came off the Ivorian’s cross bar.
Nigeria were however punished at the other end when defender Ndah needlessly upended Kouakou Kouamé inside the box with the referee Mohammed Maarouf pointing to the spot.
From the penalty, Gnaka’s take came off the upright and was on its way rebounding back into play when the ball faintly bounced over the goal line and outside. The referee awarded a goal, much to the chagrin of the Nigerians.
The 1996 Olympics Gold Medallists indeed tried to claw their way back into the game but it turned out a mirage, continuing Imama Amapakabo’s run of having never won a game outside of Nigeria as a coach.
Nigeria will face Zambia in their second group game (of the U23AFCON) on Tuesday.