Nigeria’s Super Eagles fly past Egypt in opening Afcon encounter

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The Super Eagles of Nigeria got their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations campaign off to a flying start with a 1-0 win over record seven-time Afcon winners, Egypt, who had not lost a group stage match in 18 years. 

A first half goal by Kelechi Iheanacho was the difference in a highly tactical match in which former South African coach, Carlos Queiroz was completely outwitted and seemed not to have answers to bring the high-flying Eagles down. 

Expected to be a thorn to the Nigerian defence, Liverpool striker, Mo Salah was kept quiet for most of the game, which eventually ensure Egypt couldn’t play their game. 

The first half took long to settle with Egypt looking like they would be the dominant side, looking relatively more comfortable on the ball early on, knocking it around while Nigeria largely formed a defensive compact at the back, waiting to catch their opponents on the counter. 

It was Egypt who made their intentions known first in the 5th minute with Mustafa Mohamed flying down the right into the Nigeria penalty box. He fired a shot but it was easily dealt with by goalkeeper Emil Okoye. 

Egypt were forced to make a forced substitution two minutes later when Akram Tawfik seemed to have twisted his knee. 

However, it was completely different ball game the moment Nigeria found their rhythm and their tactics seemed to be more superior with Moses Simon creating problems for The Pharaos down the left channel. 

Several times, Simon showed glimpses of a potential thorn into the Egyptian defence and five minutes before the half hour mark, the FC Nantes forward found himself inside the box. But his shot hit the side of the net from a tight angle.  

Five minutes later the 26-year-old turned provider when he sent in a beautiful cross. Iheanacho brought the ball down under control with a thigh and sent in a powerful left-footed shot past Mohammed El Shenawy into the top corner to put Nigeria in the lead.  

From that moment, Nigeria were in complete control enjoying most of the ball possession. 

Coach Augustine Eguavoen’s approach of defending as a compact seemed to frustrate Queiroz’s men who could only knock the ball around in their own half, unable to find spaces inside the Nigerian half, often being forced to play long to no effect at all. 

There was a roar from the Nigerian fans every time Simon touched the ball and ten minutes before the break he was back down the left flank. But his long cross didn’t find a recipient.  

Egypt seemed to be disjointed in defence leaving Iheanacho mostly roaming unchecked down the centre. As the halftime break neared, the Leicester striker capitalised on break attack with a run down the middle and cleverly waited for support before he released a through pass to Taiwo Awoniyi but El Shenawy had read the ball well and had it covered.  

Moments later, Awoniyi was back in the box but his shot straight to El Shenawy was easily dealth with. 

Nigeria came back from the break even more fired up with Awoyini being denied by the goalpost before Iheanacho also found himself with an opportunity to make it a brace in the 56th minute but his first touch was not as good as the one when he buried the chance in the first half. 

In an attempt to swing the match back in Egypt’s favour, Queiroz made four substitutions. This seemed to  inject new energy into the Egyptian side, but on many occasions the  Egyptians were outnumbered by the Nigerians who defended in numbers. This forced Egypt to keep resorting to ineffective lose balls which only gave away possession to Nigeria. 

Substitute Ahmed Sayed, better known as Zizo seemed to have a good effect. With just less than 30minutes to go he had a great run down the right into the ball with some good footwork to get around Simon who had dropped back to defend, but his final pass failed to find a teammate. 

Quiet for most of the game, it was only in the 70th minute that Salah found himself in a good goalscoring position. Zizo lobbed the ball behind the Nigerian defence line to release Salah into a one-on-one situation with Okoye but his tame shot, with Nigeria defenders breathing down his neck, would not result in a goal. 

But it was back to the land of the dead for Salah who continued to have two or three Nigeria shirts around him preventing him from getting the Pharaos to tick, leaving Queiroz on his feet, twiddling his thumbs on the sideline, looking on without answers through the Super Eagles’ defence.  

Time and again Nigerians continued to waste opportunities to double their lead with Chedira Ejuke’s brilliant counter attack run down the right flank only resulting in his shot from inside the box saved by El Shenawy.  

Before the final whistly the CSKA Moscow left winger paced down the right side but El Shenawy denied the substitute for the second time from closed range, parring the ball out of play. 

The Super Eagle will be inspired by the important victory against one of the favourites going into the next fixtures against Guinea-Bissau and Sudan, while Egypt will need to rethink their tactics if they are to remain as one of the favourites.