Kelechi Iheanacho’s excellent first-half goal handed Nigeria a deserved 1-0 victory over a below-par Egypt in their Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group D clash yesterday in Garoua.
Leicester striker Iheanacho who was named the Man of the Match crashed a half-volley from the edge of the box into the top corner after 30 minutes to settle the contest, but Nigeria should have added at least a couple more goals in what was the best performance by a team in the finals so far and a warning to their rivals.
A far more energetic Nigerian side deserved to be in front against lethargic opponents with Salah starved of possession in 30 degrees Celsius heat.
Egypt failed to shift out of first gear and could not get talisman Salah into the game. The Liverpool forward cut an isolated figure up front, starved of service and the quality around him to have an influence.
Nigeria fired German coach Gernot Rohr in December after an unimpressive World Cup qualifying campaign and put former national star Augustine Eguavoen in temporary charge.
Eguavoen’s squad was without forwards Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis, and Odion Ighalo for a variety of reasons, but the team started their campaign well against Mohamed Salah-captained Egypt.
Prolific Liverpool scorer Salah hardly touched the ball and had only one chance, late in the second half, to equalise.
later at the 30,000-capacity Stade Roumde Adjia in the north-western city of Garoua.
His cross was only partially cleared by Ahmed Hegazy and Nigerian Joseph Aribo nodded the ball into the path of Iheanacho who hammered a half-volley past goalkeeper Mohamed Elshenawy.
Iheanacho almost set up a second goal for Nigeria before half-time, but his pass to Taiwo Awoniyi was just too strong and Elshenawy dashed off his line to gather the ball.
Egypt nearly fell further behind a couple of minutes into the second half when Elshenawy got his hands to an Awoniyi header and the ball came back into play off the underside of the crossbar.
Simon’s speed was a constant threat on the left, while Nigeria goalkeeper Maduka Okoye was a mere spectator with Egypt unable to mount pressure.
NIGERIA: Maduka Okoye, Ola Aina, Kenneth Omeruo (Semi Ajayi 79’), William Troost-Ekong, Zaidu Sanusi, Wilfred Ndidi, Joe Aribo, Moses Simon (Alex Iwobi 90+1’), Taiwo Awoniyi (Umar Sadiq 72’), Samuel Chukwueze (Chidera Ejuke 72’), Kelechi Iheanacho (Kelechi Nwakali 80’)