A first-half goal was enough for Austin Eguavoen’s side to outpower their North African opponents at Roumde Adjia Stadium
Nigeria started their campaign at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations with a 1-0 win over Egypt on Tuesday.
Leicester City star Kelechi Iheanacho scored the only goal that separated the teams in Garoua as the 2019 bronze medallists extended their dominance over the North Africans.
Austin Eguavoen opted for Iheanacho and Union Berlin’s Taiwo Awoniyi to lead Nigeria’s frontline owing to the absence of Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis and Al Shabab’s Odion Ighalo.
The three-time African champions did not take long to settle in the game with Moses Simon and Joe Aribo pulling the strings for the attack. The Super Eagles posed their first threat in the 26th minute after Aribo slotted a through ball to Simon but the Nantes winger could not hit the target with his right-footed strike.
Five minutes later, Nigeria fired the ball into the penalty area and Aribo nodded the ball to Iheanacho who made a sharp turn and found the back of the net with his shot. The Super Eagles had another chance to double their lead in the 42nd minute, but Iheanacho fired his effort straight at goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy.
Egypt ended the first 45 minutes without breaking the Super Eagles’ defence even with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, as they struggled to test Maduka Okoye.
Eguavoen’s men started the second half on the same commanding note by winning two corner-kicks within three minutes.
Awoniyi came close to grabbing a second goal with his header off Ola Aina’s cross in the 47th minute but he was denied by the bar before El Shenawy wrapped the ball in his hands. Salah found it difficult to beat the defensive duo of William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo with Aston Villa’s Mahmoud Trezeguet and Galatasaray’s Mostafa Mohamed replaced for more attacking options in the 58th minute.
Nigeria, on the other hand, turned to fresh legs in the 80th minute with Semi Ajayi and Kelechi Nwakali replacing Omeruo and Iheanacho respectively. It was Nwakali’s debut appearance for the Super Eagles, the same for Almeria’s Sadiq Umar who came on for Awoniyi in the 72nd minute.
The result ended Egypt’s 16-game unbeaten run in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations, with their last group defeat dating back to 2004 (a 2-1 loss to Algeria). Meanwhile, Nigeria climbed to the top of Group D table with three points and they will hope to build on the win when they face Sudan on Saturday.