The Super Eagles of Nigeria became the first country to qualify for the knockout stages of the Total Africa Cup of Nations with a 1-0 win over the Syli Nationale of Guinea at the Alexandria stadium, courtesy of Kenneth Omeruo’s 73rd minute header.
Gernot Rohr, with the pace of Guinean midfielders in mind, dropped captain, John Obi Mikel to the bench, adopting a 4-2-1-3 formation with Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi at the base of midfield, with Alex Iwobi behind match-winner against Burundi, Odion Ighalo.
Chigozie Awaziem started at right back in place of injured Shehu Abdullahi, while Leon Balogun replaced Troost-Ekong in central defence to partner Kenneth Omeruo.
The Super Eagles should have been ahead in the early minutes but both Iwobi and prolific Ighalo hesitated when a few yards from goal after being set up by dangerous cut-backs from the wings.
Moses Simon, who took the place of Samuel Chukwueze on the right wing, got a sight of goal when found by Ahmed Musa’s cross-field pass and went for glory after evading a defender, blazing high and wide.
The Super Eagles’ best chance of the half, however, came on 32 minutes when Simon put Ighalo through on goal but the striker went for glory, finding the side netting when he could have set up Ahmed Musa for a tap in, an uncharacteristic selfish play from the 30-year-old striker.
It was a feisty and tasty clash happening in midfield, the duo of Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi both taking turns to stop the dangerous Naby Keita, with Omeruo occasionally joining the party.
The unpredictable and pacey Liverpool midfielder was hounded at every turn, suffering more fouls than any other Guinean in the first period, but both Ndidi and Etebo did manage to stifle the 24-year-old, defusing most of the opposition’s attacking build-up in the process.
In an open encounter, both teams were dangerous in attack but the Eagles finished the half the more dangerous side, Alex Iwobi working Ibrahim Kone from 25 yards, while Awaziem headed wide at the back post from the resultant corner kick with the goal gapping after the keeper had misjudged the flight of the ball.
Nigeria, sluggish after the interval, only came to life on the hour mark, Ahmed Musa breaking free on the counter but his cross to Ighalo was blocked and moments later, Iwobi produced a moment of magic, his curling effort from 20 yards required an acrobatic save from Kone.
The Eagles continued to press for the opener and duly got the opening goal which proved to be the winning goal from an unlikely source, Omeruo, in the 73rd minute.
The Leganes of Spain defender evaded his marker to deliver a glancing header beyond Kone from Moses Simon’s corner kick, his first international goal for Nigeria.
Gernot Rohr brought on Samuel Chukwueze for Iwobi to stretch the Guineans further, while the German coach also introduced Paul Onuachu and Samuel Kalu to run down the clock.
Nigeria have now earned maximum six points from their first two games, are top of Group B and have sealed qualification into the knockout stages of the AFCON tournament.