An afternoon that promised to be exciting and intriguing for all lovers of the African game was no less having different actors than the continent’s most populous nation up against its most successful nation in the competition’s history.
The storyline was set, would Wilfred Ndidi be able to translate the code he used with Ghanaian compatriot Daniel Amartey to shut up the magical Egyptian in their last Premier League meeting before the AFCON? Ndidi was not going to be a centre-back today against Salah for the Super Eagles but will his presence give them a hint on how to control the in-form goal poacher?
Right from the blast of the referee’s whistle, the Super Eagles took the game straight to the Pharaohs and each side played without fear of the other just that they both exhibited high sense in defence to curtail any attacking forays into their respective areas.
A few chances were created and attempted but the best of them fell to the West African nation and three-time champions just on the half-hour mark. Guess who made it count, it was another Leicester City man, Kelechi Promise Iheanacho who did the magic.
The striker collected the pass from inside the box after Ahmed Hegazy’s header went straight to Joe Aribo who gave a one-touch pass to the Leicester City forward and the rest was the celebration. The forward received the ball with calm and turned quickly to fire a shot at goal which eluded Mohammed El Shenaway in goal for the Pharaohs and rippled into the top corner.
In the second half, Taiwo Awoniyi thought he had doubled the Super Eagles lead after an off the line cross went to him and he headed straight at goal but the fingers of the Egyptian goalkeeper added height to the ball, pushing it to hit the underside of the net. Mohammed Salah soon had a chance on the other end to pull parity but Okoye was on hand to block the effort.
Substitute Chidera Ejuke led a Nigerian counter-attack in added time when the Pharaohs had committed most of their men into the Nigerian box to attack a corner and it to the efforts of El Shenaway to again deny the Nigerians another goal.
It ended 1-0 in favour of the Super Eagles and they will be hopeful of securing early qualification to the next stage when they face Sudan on Saturday afternoon. Egypt meanwhile will hope to get their campaign back on track with a positive result against Guinea-Bissau in the evening of the same day.