ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, Jun 22 – Odion Ighalo came on as a second half substitute to break Burundi’s hearts, hitting the winner as the debutants lost 1-0 in their first Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group B match in Alexandria Saturday night.
Burundi looked on course to hold on for a draw, but Ighalo hit the back of the net barely four minutes after coming on to hand the Super Eagles some precious three points.
The Burundian team featured Sofapaka’s Mousa Omar who was started out on the right side of defense as well as Gor Mahia’s Francis Mustafa, with the latter coming off in the second half.
Sofapaka keeper Justind Ndikumana and former Gor Mahia right back Karim Nizigiyimana both started on the bench.
Despite being the better and more experienced team, Nigeria did not create the best chances of the opening half, Burundi making some three brilliant scoring opportunities.
In the 14th minute, Cedric Amissi who had erstwhile scored in each of the last four Burundi games was picked out with a brilliant ball from Gael Bigirimana, but his shot inside the box went straight to keeper Daniel Akpeyi.
Bigirimana had another brilliant opportunity when he struck a stinging freekick from range in the 28th minute with Akpeyi being forced to fist it away as it came with pace and power.
The Swallows came ever so close in the 37th minute when Cedric Nsabiyumva’s header off a Shassir Nahimana freekick hit the bar.
Nigeria had an early chance in the 12th minute when Paul Ebere forced keeper Jonathan Nahimana to a great save with a header off an Iwobi cross.
Nigeria were forced to make a change six minutes to the break when Abdullahi Shehu was stretchered off and his place taken by Collins Chidozie on the right side of defense.
The Eagles came back hungrier in the second half and played with more urgency.
Six minutes after the restart, Kenneth Omeruo’s header at the backpost off a Peter Etebo freekick went inches wide. In the 70th minute, Samuel Chukweuze had a chance with a dinking effort as he raced though on goal from the left but the effort was over.
A minute on the turn, Abdul Razak Fiston, Burundi’s top scorer during the qualifiers almost caught keeper Akpeyi off his line with a shot from range, but the shot stopper managed to dive well to his right and palm the ball away.
Nigeria got their goal after 76 minutes when Ighalo was sent through with a beautiful through pass by Ola Aina before beating the keeper one on one.
Burundi almost found a way back into the game immediately when Akpeyi made an error handling a cross, but Fiston could not take advantage, his shot at goal blocked.