Last night in Garoua, Cameroon, the Nigeria Super Eagles started their quest for a fourth Africa Cup of Nations title on a high note with an impressive one-goal win against seven-time champions and one favorites for the title, Egypt, at the fledgling 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations.
The Nigerian team under the leadership of interim coach Augustine Eguavoen, appointed less than two months ago, not only responded to the skeptics, who left them little chance on Egypt led by Mohamed Salah, they made a strong declaration of intent as far as the current championship in Cameroon is concerned.
From the referee’s whistle, the Eagles asserted themselves and kept the Pharoahs on the back foot in the opening game of Group D. All fears of a possible massacre and annihilation of the boot de Salah et al fainted barely 10 minutes after the start of the match. Nigeria controlled Egypt with a fiery and determined performance.
Salah and his comrades were effectively caged and neutralized by the Eagles defense organized by Kenneth Omeruo, Troost Ekong, Zaidu Sanusi and Ola Aina. Wilfred Ndidi and David Aribo were magnificent in the midfield, while Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi were impressive in attack. Just as Moses troubled Pharaoh on behalf of Israel in the Bible, Moses Simon was a thorn in the flesh of the Egyptians on the right flank with powerful leads repeatedly penetrating.
Iheanacho gave Nigeria the lead after half an hour, controlling and finding the top corner of the Egyptian goal on a header and cross from Aribo and Simon, respectively. The Eagles were unfortunate enough not to score more goals than their efforts deserved, especially Iheanacho, Awoniyi and Chidera Ejuke, all of whom missed good chances.
Egypt were lackluster for much of the procedure, having only managed one shot in the opening 70 minutes.
Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, who reaffirmed his desire to stay at Anfield, found himself isolated on several occasions up front as Nigeria dictated the tempo of the game.
The forward was pushed back by substitute Ahmed Sayed with 20 minutes remaining, but his failed shot was saved by the legs of Nigerian goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.
As Egypt sought an equalizer with improved performance in the second half, the Eagles fought to restrict them to long-distance efforts and half chances. In the end, Salah was limited to one clear chance that was saved by the keeper.
Indeed, Eguavoen and his pupils with their performance against Egypt showed that they were serious in Cameroon and that they must rely on them to try to go to the end of the competition.
Nigeria still have Sudan and Guinea Bissau as adversaries to overcome on the way by dominating Group D.
By: Gabriel Nwanetanya