Nigeria became the first qualifiers for the second round of the Africa Cup of Nations when they beat Guinea 1-0 in Alexandria yesterday with Kenneth Omeruo scoring the only goal. Centre-back Omeruo headed a corner into the net on 73 minutes to earn the Super Eagles a second straight Group B victory after beating Burundi by the same score four days ago.
Nigeria have a maximum six points, Madagascar and Guinea one each and Burundi are pointless in the group. The Burundians and Malagasies meet today.
Although the Super Eagles are not guaranteed to finish first, they are certain of a top-two finish and a place in the next round. Guinea star Naby Keita started his first match since being injured playing for Liverpool at Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final last month.
He received some rough treatment and was substituted midway through the second half just before Nigeria broke the deadlock. Samuel Kalu, who collapsed while training last Friday with severe dehydration, replaced Moses Simon deep in stoppage time.
Although the countries have made 30 appearances between them at the Cup of Nations, this was only the second time they had met, the first was a 1-1 draw in Ethiopia 43 years ago. Both coaches had been unhappy with their first outings against debutants, as Nigeria pipped Burundi 1-0 and Guinea led and trailed in a 2-2 draw against Madagascar.
Nigeria’s German coach Gernot Rohr made five changes, including dropping veteran captain John Obi Mikel with Ahmed Musa wearing the armband. Belgium-born Guinea coach Paul Put, who took outsiders Burkina Faso to the 2013 final, made three alterations, including the promotion of goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone.
Guinean Francois Kamano had an opportunity to threaten Nigeria midway through the opening half in 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) heat, but blazed a free-kick over the bar. Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo, who came off the bench to score the goal that beat Burundi, broke clear just after the half-hour mark and his angled shot flew into the side netting.
Keita was treated roughly by the Nigerians and complained to the Angolan referee after being crudely sandwiched by two opponents. The 24-year-old Liverpool midfielder needed medical attention several times late in the first half.
Nigeria were more assertive as the second half progressed and an interception prevented a Musa pass after a great run finding the unmarked Ighalo. Peter Etebo then stung the fingers of Kone from a free-kick that the goalkeeper parried and a defender cleared.
Coach Put decided that Keita was not sufficiently fit to last a full match in the heat and replaced him with Lass Bangoura on 71 minutes. Two minutes later Nigeria took a deserved lead as Omeruo, one of three survivors from the 2013 Cup of Nations-winning team in the squad, nodded a corner past Kone.
Pote bags brace as Benin hold
On Tuesday night, veteran Benin forward Mickael Pote scored after 104 seconds and again in the second half as 10-man Ghana were held to a 2-2 draw in a lively match. Between the Pote goals, brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew netted in the opening half for Ghana, who had defender John Boye red-carded soon after half-time in Egyptian city Ismailia.
The last of the 12 first round games was also the most entertaining in the biennial tournament, which Egypt are staging after original hosts Cameroon fell behind with preparations. Defending champions Cameroon scored twice within three minutes to beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0 earlier and they top the table with three points while Benin and Ghana have one each.
Ghana are the bookmakers’ joint second favourites with Senegal, behind record seven-time champions Egypt, to win an Africa Cup enlarged to 24 teams from 16 in the last edition. But 100/1 outsiders Benin, who have never won a Cup of Nations match, were never overawed by opponents who have lifted the trophy four times. Instead of the caginess exhibited in many of the group matches since the opener last Friday, both teams attacked and this produced attractive football for the small crowd. Pote darted on to a pass from midfield, held off the challenges of two Black Stars and poked the ball past goalkeeper Richard Ofori in a stunning start. But Ghana took just seven minutes to level with one Ayew setting up the goal for the other as Jordan passed to Andre, whose low left-foot shot flew into the corner of the net.
Jordan put Ghana ahead three minutes before half-time by winning possession from a long pass, outpacing a defender and slamming a rising shot past Fabien Farnolle, another Benin veteran.
Ghana suffered a major blow 10 minutes into the second half when Boye was yellow-carded a second time by the Tunisian referee and sent off.
The numerical advantage emboldened Benin as they sought a first Cup of Nations victory after a draw and eight losses in three previous appearances, the last one nine years ago. Benin coach Michel Dussuyer responded to the situation by sending on substitutes Seibou Mama and Jodel Dossou after 62 minutes, and Pote equalised one minute later. Pote had a chance to complete a hat-trick two minutes from time and earn Benin a shock victory, but he hesitated inside the box and the chance was lost.
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