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Iheanacho gets Nigeria off to winning start after troubled build-up

Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho scored as Nigeria put a troubled build-up to the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon behind them on Tuesday to beat disappointing Egypt 1-0 in Garoua. Iheanacho struck after 30 minutes to take the Super Eagles to the top of the table after the opening match in Group D, which…

Nigeria’s players celebrate after winning the Group D Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Nigeria and Egypt at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 11, 2022. (Photo by Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP)

Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho scored as Nigeria put a troubled build-up to the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon behind them on Tuesday to beat disappointing Egypt 1-0 in Garoua.

Iheanacho struck after 30 minutes to take the Super Eagles to the top of the table after the opening match in Group D, which includes Guinea-Bissau and Sudan.

Nigeria fired German coach Gernot Rohr in December after an unimpressive World Cup qualifying campaign and put former national star Augustine Eguavoen in temporary charge.

Eguavoen’s squad was without forwards Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis and Odion Ighalo for a variety of reasons, but his team did him proud against Mohamed Salah-captained Egypt.

Prolific Liverpool scorer Salah hardly touched the ball and had only one chance, late in the second half, to equalise.

A cagey opening half controlled by Nigeria sprang to life on 26 minutes when winger Moses Simon got behind the Egypt defence and fired into the side netting from a difficult angle.

Simon played a major role when the Super Eagles took the lead four minutes later at the 30,000-capacity Stade Roumde Adjia in the northwestern city of Garoua.

His cross was only partially cleared by Ahmed Hegazy and Nigerian Joseph Aribo nodded the ball into the path of Iheanacho who hammered a half-volley past goalkeeper Mohamed Elshenawy.

A far more energetic Nigerian side deserved to be in front against lethargic opponents with Salah starved of possession in 30 degrees celsius (86 fahrenheit) heat.

Iheanacho almost set up a second goal for Nigeria before half-time, but his pass to Taiwo Awoniyi was just too strong and Elshenawy dashed off his line to gather the ball.

Egypt nearly fell further behind a couple of minutes into the second half when Elshenawy got his hands to an Awoniyi header and the ball came back into play off the underside of the crossbar.

Simon’s speed was a constant threat on the left, while Nigeria goalkeeper Maduka Okoye was a mere spectator with Egypt unable to mount pressure.

Salah, sporting a shorter hair style, finally got a scoring chance as the match entered the final quarter, but his close-range prod was blocked by Okoye’s foot and cleared.

Meanwhile, in the first of three matches on Tuesday, defending champions Algeria were surprisingly held to a 0-0 Group E draw by minnows Sierra Leone in the Atlantic port city of Douala.

Yacine Brahimi missed the holders’ best chance early in the second half when he found himself with just the goalkeeper to beat, only for Mohamed Kamara to hold his shot at the second attempt.

The third day of group fixtures will be completed when Guinea-Bissau face Sudan in a clash of Group D outsiders in Garoua at 2000 local time (1900 GMT).