William Troost-Ekong’s powerful penalty in the second half was decisive as Nigeria beat hosts Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations second Group A match at Olympique Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on Thursday afternoon.
The former Udinese defender’s slam spot-kick that hugely relieved Nigeria came after top striker Victor Osimhen was clipped on the ankle, which went to a VAR review.
The pressure, prior, was mounting between the two top nations on the African continent to either get a win here, as Equatorial Guinea thumped Guinea Bissau 4-2 in the earlier match at the same venue to go to four points.
Nigeria, in the first game on Sunday, was grateful to Africa’s best player Victor Osimhen for a towering header to save a 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea.
Hosts Ivory Coast had opened the tournament by beating Guinea-Bissau 2-0 in front of the capacity crowd in Abidjan on Saturday.
It was not all that convincing for the Elephants though, but winning games is what matters in the group stages.
Before the game, several fans lined up outside the stadium to watch the two biggest nations, who won the AFCON in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
These teams were meeting for the first time in this competition since the 2013 AFCON in South Africa, when Nigeria won 2-1 at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in the quarter-finals, before going all the way to win the trophy.
The Super Eagles were presented with a great chance in the seventh minute and to their best player – Osimhen after Samuel Chukwueze set up the Napoli star forward in between defenders, but he hooked it over Yahia Fofana.
Then there was a mixed-up communication between Chippa United goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali and Zaidu Sanusi in Nigeria’s back, but they escaped unpunished.
Seko Fofana, who scored in just the fourth minute for Ivory Coast against Guinea-Bissau with a powerful strike, asked a question from range at Nwabali, who responded by palming away his shot in the half-hour mark.
While both nations created good chances, they had nothing on show as the first half ended in a goalless draw.
But in the early stages of the second half Nigeria was handed a penalty as Ousmane Diomande was adjudged to have kicked Osimhen in the ankle. Algeria referee Mustapha Ghorbal was called by VAR to see an incident on the pitch side before pointing to the spot kick.
Captain Troost-Ekong slammed the spot-kick straight down the middle in the 55th minute to see Nigeria take the lead.
Nigeria looked in control of the game thereafter and Osimhen missed another chance with a header after snicking in between defenders from the throw in just after the hour mark.
Both sides will finish the group by playing simultaneously on Monday and required nothing but to win – Nigeria will face Guinea Bissau while hosts Ivory Coast’s clash will be tougher against Equatorial Guinea.