Nigeria bounced back from a disappointing start to their campaign at the 2018 African Nations Championship with a hard-fought 1-0 defeat of Libya at the Stade Ibn Batouta, Tangier, Morocco, on Friday.
A lone goal from 19-year-old Shooting Stars’ forward Sunday Faleye gave Nigeria the three points to go top of Group C after a disappointing goalless draw against Rwanda in their first match on Monday. Rwanda are second after a 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea.
The home-based Super Eagles will play Equatorial Guinea, who lost their first game 3-0 to Libya, in their last match on Tuesday. A win will see them qualify for the quarter-finals of the championship.
Eagles Assistant Coach Salisu Yusuf retained the starting team, which drew 0-0 with Rwanda. Captain Ikechukwu Ezenwa remained in goal while Osas Okoro, Daniel Itodo, Stephen Eze and Kalu Orji were in defence. Emeka Atuloma, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Rabiu Ali were in the midfield while Emeka Ogbugh, Anthony Okpotu and Sunday Faleye started in the attack.
Nigeria started the stronger side as they sought to score the early goal but the Libyan defenders kept the Eagles attackers at bay. The Eagles first chance came in the third minute when Itodo’s long throw found Okpotu in the Libyan box – the Lobi Stars’ forward failed to convert the chance.
The Eagles kept the momentum but failed to create clear-cut opportunities to beat the Libyan defence.
The match became an end-to-end affair as both sides searched for the opener but the Nigerian defenders kept the Libyan attackers at bay. Ezenwa made a confortable save in the 30th minute from a Libyan free-kick.
The Eagles forced Libyan goalkeeper Nashnush to make a save from an Ogbugh header, off a cross from Faleye.
Coach Yusuf substituted Okpotu with Mustapha Ibrahim in the 61st minute as the Eagles continued to search for the opening goal.
The Eagles’ pressure paid off in the 79th minute. Faleye, who was unmarked, sent a right-footed shot into the net from an Okoro corner kick.
The Eagles almost doubled the score in the 81st minute after Ibrahim was through on goal but his pass to Faleye was well-read by a Libyan defender, who cleared into safety.
Libya came forward in search of an equaliser but Nigeria held on for their first win of the competition.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Premier League great Victor Ezeji advised the team to work more on their attack if they are to go far in the competition.
Ezeji, who spoke with our correspondent on the telephone after the match on Friday, said the team are good in the defence, adding that their attackers needed to score goals to win matches.
“I knew they would defeat Libya because it is a Nigerian thing. When the chips are down, Nigerian teams have always woken up and done the needful,” the former Enyimba forward said.
“They played better against Libya than in their first match against Rwanda but there is much work to be done on their goal scoring abilities. They need to get the goals to win matches. They defend very well and are composed in the midfield but the final ball let them down a couple of times.
“They have got a goal against Libya, they should work on it and get more in their next match and see how they can win the tournament.”
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