Africa: Ekong Penalty Edges Nigeria Past Cote d’Ivoire At Africa Cup of Nations

Nigeria regathered their pride on Thursday night with a 1-0 victory over hosts Cote d’Ivoire to take them joint top of Group A with four points after two games at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

Equatorial Guinea occupy pole position after Emilio Nsue scored the first hat trick at the tournament since 2008 to help his side sweep past Guinea Bissau 4-2 in the early afternoon game at the Alassane Outtara stadium in Abidjan

Hyped as a crunch clash between west African powerhouses, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire began at a furious pace.

Victor Osimhen was set free on the left for the first chance of the match but the Napoli striker botched his lob over goalkeeper Yahia Fofana.

Stung by the impertinence, the hosts went down the other end. Stanley Nwabali stopped the counter with a sharp save from Christian Kouamé’s strike.

Kouamé squandered another opportunity three minutes later. But the early flurry gave way to a fug of caution and sloppiness as both teams failed to find fluid connections between midfield and attack.

For all the attacking talent on display, a defender broke the deadlock.

Eight minutes into the second-half, referee Mustapha Ghorbal pointed to the penalty spot after the video assistants highlighted a foul on Osimhen.

Skipper William Ekong stepped up and walloped the ball down the middle of Fofana’s goal.

Response

The partisans riled, the players responded with more urgency. But Ekong was as doughty in defence as he was deft in attack.

Cote d’Ivoire coach Jean-Louis Gasset sent on Jonathan Bamba for Kouamé in a direct swap of strikers. Another attacker, Nicolas Pepé, entered in place of midfielder Jeremie Boga.

But the ploys brought no joy. Nigeria sat deep and rode their luck to hold on for slender win.

“It wasn’t an easy game,” said Osimhen. “We knew the Ivorians were going to be strong against us.

“They’ve got a lot of quality players from the goalkeeper to the attack but we executed our game plan and it’s a big win for us.”

Nigeria will face Guinea Bissau in their final game in the pool on Monday night at the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan. A draw will be enough to take them into the last-16 knockout stages.

The hosts are in a more precarious position following the setback and will need to beat Equatorial Guinea on Monday to be assured of a place in the second phase. A draw – giving Cote d’Ivoire four points – would probably be enough to advance them to the last-16 as one of the four best third-placed teams.

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