Nigeria became the first country to make it to the knockout rounds of the ongoing 32nd Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt on Wednesday evening, as Kenneth Omeruo’s well- placed header from a Moses Simon’s corner kick earned all three points against Guinea at the Alexandria Stadium.
A below-par first half gave way to a lively second half, during which Odion Ighalo, who earned all the three points for Nigeria after coming on as a substitute against Burundi on Saturday, could have scored if the Guinean defenders had not checkmated Ahmed Musa’s pass from a swift counter-attack, and Alex Iwobi forced a smart one-handed save from Guinea’s goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone from a snap shot.
The result means that for the first time since the 2006 AFCON finals (also staged in Egypt), Nigeria won their two matches of the finals.
At the beginning, the Syli Nationale were more business-like, working three shots on target including one that rattled Daniel Akpeyi, before Moses Simon fired wide over the bar when he freed himself from the right.
Coach Gernot Rohr rested captain Mikel Obi and William Ekong, with Chukwueze also benched for Simon and Ighalo starting in place of Paul Onuachu. Yet, the Super Eagles did not look intensely creative in the first half hour and it was largely the organization of Kenneth Omeruo, Leon Balogun, Chidozie Awaziem and Ola Aina at the back that ensured a barren scoreline at the interval.
Iwobi had movement and endeavour but gave the ball away severally, and Ighalo must have punched himself after side-netting with Musa waiting eagerly to raze the net from close range in the 32nd minute. Earlier, Ighalo had, with a poor first touch, fumbled a good pass from Musa after the latter’s run down the left, and Iwobi also wasted another excellent pass by the pacy deputy captain.
The Super Eagles need only a draw from their last match of the group phase against Madagascar on Sunday to finish top of the group and remain in Alexandria for their Round of 16 fixture.