The Super Eagles of Nigeria have boosted its credibility as one of the favourites to lift this year’s African Cup of Nations following a 1-0 win over host nation Ivory Coast.
Defender William Troost-Ekong gave the Nigerian team a 1-0 lead from the penalty spot in the 55th minute after striker Victor Osimhen was bundled by Ivorian defenders in the penalty box.
The Eagles matched the firepower of the host country in the game today which was a contrasting performance from the one against Equatorial Guinea on Sunday.
Before the goal, both teams have had their chances, with the Nigerian team being the most wasteful in front of goal.
Following a drab performance against Equatorial Guinea on Sunday, Nigerian fans feared that the Eagles might not make it past the group stages, but the display against the Elephants today has again raised hopes for a solid outing in Ivory Coast.
Nigeria is now locked on four points at the top of the group alongside Equatorial Guinea, with Ivory Coast behind them on three points and Guinea-Bissau already eliminated after losing both games so far.
The fact that the four best third-placed sides in the six groups will all advance to the last 16 leaves margin for error, but Ivory Coast must now beat Equatorial Guinea in their last match on Monday to guarantee progress.
Meanwhile Nigeria must simply avoid defeat against Guinea-Bissau -– beaten 4-2 by Equatorial Guinea earlier – to ensure a top-two finish.
The match was watched by 49,517 fans, a far higher crowd than that for the hosts’ opening game, when the number of empty seats at the 60,000-capacity venue was a source of controversy.
Despite the favourable atmosphere, the Elephants are the first host nation to lose a match in the group phase of an AFCON since 2012, when Equatorial Guinea -– co-hosts that year with Gabon –- went down 1-0 to Zambia.
The last host nation to go out in the first round was Gabon, eliminated with three draws in 2017.
Ivory Coast were still missing star forward Sebastien Haller as he recovers from injury, as coach Jean-Louis Gasset made two changes to his line-up with Serge Aurier coming in at right-back and Christian Kouame on the right wing.
It was the first meeting of the sides at the AFCON since a quarter-final in 2013, the year they last lifted the trophy.