By Kunle Adedoyin
Nigeria began its 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) campaign with a slim 1-0 victory over debutants Burundi at the Alexandria Stadium on Saturday.
It was a hard fought game on the part of the Super Eagles who had to dig deep to pick maximum points in the Group B cracker.
There were good chances in the early minutes from Burundi, who pressed high up the pitch and looked to force Nigeria onto the back foot.
Nigeria’s tall striker Ebere Onuachu got his first sight on goal as he met a cross from the left flank, but his off-target header was easily claimed by the goalkeeper.
Burundi then went up to the other end and carved Nigeria’s defence wide open, with Cedric gifted a great chance to score but he was denied from close range by goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.
Bigirimana had a sweet strike directly from a long-range free-kick and Akpeyi somewhat unconvincingly made the save.
A Swallows free kick found the head of Nsabiyumva, who saw his header touched onto the crossbar by Akpeyi.
The rebound fell for the same player, but he blasted it over the top.
There was cause to worry for Nigeria as Shehu Abdullahi was stretchered off with an injury; it was the end of his evening. He was replaced in the 42nd minute.
Nigeria needed freshness upfront and the pacy Ahmed Musa was thrown into the fray.
It was 0-0 at the break with more action expected in the second half.
Nigeria blew a great chance in the 50th minute. Oghenekaro Etebo’s free-kick delivery to the far post found Kenneth Omeruo free but the defender could not keep his header down.
There was sustained pressure from Nigeria, but Burundi’s defence held firm.
In the 77th minute, there was an expected breakthrough; Aina perfectly put a great back-heel to set-up substitute Odion Ighalo, and the striker provided a perfect finish to break the deadlock.
Burundi almost forced an equaliser after some shaky goalkeeping from Akpeyi.
Here are the teams:
Nigeria: Akpeyi, Aina, Troost-Ekong, Shehu, Omeruo, Ndidi, Etebo, Mikel (Musa), Chukwueze, Onuachu (Ighalo), Iwobi
Burundi: J. Nahimana, Ngando, Moussa, Nsabiyumva, Bigirimana, Duhayindavyi, S. Nahimana, Moustapha, Abdul-Razak, Cedric, Berahino