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14 January 2024

Three-time champions Nigeria held by Equatorial Guinea in AFCON opener

14 January 2024

Nigeria were held to a 1-1 draw by Equatorial Guinea in their Africa Cup of Nations Group A opening encounter in Abidjan.

Three-time AFCON champions Nigeria threatened early, but it was Equatorial Guinea who took a surprise lead through Iban Salvador in the 36th minute.

Napoli striker Victor Osimhen issued a near-instant reply when he headed home Ademola Lookman’s cross less than two minutes later to ensure the sides were square at the break.

Osimhen squandered the best opportunity of the second half, when heavy favourites Nigeria were forced to settle while their underdog opposition walked away with a valuable point.

Fulham midfielder Alex Iwobi tested Equatorial Guinea keeper Jesus Owono within the first 20 seconds, the start of a sustained spell of attack for Jose Peseiro’s side.

The Super Eagles nearly found their opener after 10 minutes when Alhassan Yusuf delivered a fine cross to Zaidu Sanusi at the back post, but the Porto left-back directed his effort over the crossbar.

Nigeria looked likelier to break the deadlock, but it was Juan Micha’s men who found themselves ahead just after the half-hour mark.

After some patient build-up, Monza’s Jose Machin squared to Salvador, who sent Nigeria keeper Stanley Nwabali went the wrong way with a low finish to the bottom left.

However, celebrations were cut short when, just over a minute later, African Footballer of the Year Osimhen connected with Lookman’s cross and headed home.

Sanusi wasted a chance after the break and Owono came out to deny Osimhen soon after as Nigeria continued to apply pressure, and there was bad news for the Super Eagles when Yusuf was carried off on a stretcher after 69 minutes.

Ola Aina had forced Owono into another save seconds before, and Osimhen, again wearing a protective face mask, missed a huge chance when he found himself through on goal but fired wide from the edge of the six-yard box.

Nwabali was called into a rare test in second-half stoppage time, when his side staging a frenzied late surge but came up short of a winner.

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