Odion Ighalo spares Nigeria’s blushes

Odion Ighalo spares Nigeria’s blushes
Odion Jude Ighalo (9) celebrates goal with Ahmed Musa

by BackPageTXT

Saturday Jun 22, 2019. 21:04

Odion Ighalo rose off the bench to score the only goal of the game as Nigeria defeated Burundi in their opening Group B clash at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday night.

The Super Eagles struggled to break down an impressive Swallows team at the Alexandria Stadium, with the AFCON debutants putting in a battling showing which suggests they will be no easy prey at the tournament.

The first effort on target came from Nigeria’s lanky striker Paul Onuachu in the 13th minute: he saw his goal-bound header saved by Jonathan Nahimana, after a long throw-in had been flicked on by John Obi Mikel.

Burundi then went up the other end a few seconds later and should have opened the scoring: Fiston Abdul-Razak teed up Cedric Amissi, who had a clear sight of goal and only ‘keeper Daniel Akpeyi to beat, but he failed to get a shot past the gloves-man.

The Swallows grew in confidence as the half wore on, looking particularly dangerous on the counter attack thanks to the pace of Saido Berahino, Amissi and Abdul-Razak.

On 37 minutes the East Africans nearly broke the deadlock, with Frederic Nsabiyumva’s header from a free kick touched onto the crossbar by Akpeyi. The rebound fell for the same Burundi player, but he blasted the ball high and wide.

The half-time score was 0-0, with Burundi picking up in the second stanza where they left off in the first. However, Nigeria created the first clear chance after the restart, with Kenneth Omeruo heading just over the crossbar from Peter Etebo’s free kick in the 51st minute.

The Super Eagles made an attack-minded substitution just before the hour mark, withdrawing captain and midfielder Mikel and putting on forward Ahmed Musa. This allowed Alex Iwobi to come inside off the flank and play a more traditional ‘number 10’ role.

They also threw on regular centre forward Odion Ighalo with just over a quarter hour of regulation time remaining. The presence of the AFCON qualifiers’ top goal scorer did the trick for Nigeria, as he finished off a great back-heeled assist from Ola Aina in the 77th minute to break the deadlock and set his team on the path to victory.

Nigeria were able to see out the remainder of the match and secure three valuable points in the hunt for a fourth Nations Cup crown, while the Swallows will be disappointed at the result but should take pride from their brave performance.

Nigeria (0) 1 (Ighalo 77’)
Burundi 0

Nigeria: Akpeyi, Aina, Troost-Ekong, Shehu (Awaziem 42’), Omeruo, Ndidi, Etebo, Mikel (Musa 58’), Chukwueze, Onuachu (Ighalo 73’), Iwobi

Burundi: J. Nahimana, Nshimirimana, Moussa, Nsabiyumva, Bigirimana, Duhayindavyi, S. Nahimana (Nduwarugira 76’), Moustapha (Kamsoba 59’), Abdul-Razak, C. Amissi, Berahino (M. Amissi 90+2’)

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