Nigeria put their tumultuous Africa Cup preparation behind them by beating Egypt on Tuesday and giving early warning to their rivals in Cameroon.
Kelechi Iheanacho had an excellent first half to win 1-0 at the start of Group D in Garoua.
Nigeria had sacked coach Gernot Rohr just a few weeks before the tournament, survived the most recent World Cup qualification with little conviction and also injured key striker Victor Osimhen. The Nigerian Football Association also failed to send convocation letters for strikers Emmanuel Dennis and Odion Ighalo in time, and their clubs then refused to send them to the tournament in Cameroon.
But despite all the setbacks, Nigeria gave its fans a lot to inspire with the performance on Tuesday.
For the North African heavyweights, however, it was a disappointing day.
Champions Algeria faced a disappointing goalless draw in Sierra Leone’s Group E, making their first return to the finals since 1996.
Algeria had multiple chances but struggled with the heat in Douala and failed to break a determined defense where former England international Steven Caulker made his debut. On the eve of the tournament, he changed his international loyalty.
Sierra Leone President Maadu Bio took to Twitter to express his delight.
“We are very proud of you, our Leone Stars,” he said.
Iheanacho, who is now Nigeria’s top striker for the final, shot a half volley from the edge of the box into the top corner after 30 minutes to decide the fight.
However, Nigeria should have added at least a few more goals in their best performance ever in the finals.
Egypt failed to turn first gear and couldn’t bring talisman striker Mohamed Salah into play as he made an isolated figure in the front.
“The performance in the first half was very bad and that’s the truth, we weren’t on the field,” said Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz.
In the other Group D game on Tuesday, Guinea Bissau and Sudan drew goalless.
Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast will meet in Group E in Douala on Wednesday. In Group F, Mali will meet Tunisia and Gambia will make their tournament debut against Mauritania.
(Processing up to xx)