Nigeria’s Super Eagles got their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations campaign off to a winning start at the Ahmadu bello Stadium in Kaduna, with a2 nil defeat of Chad.
Goals from Gbolahan Salami and Odion Ighalo ensured Nigeria began their Africa Cup of Nations 2017 qualifying campaign in winning fashion.
After a lethargic, uninspired first half, the Super Eagles improved after the break and took the lead on 69 minutes when Salami finished well after an excellent assist from substitute Ighalo.
The Watford FC of England striker, who was promoted to the Premier League this season, confirmed the victory with a penalty on 80 minutes after being brought down in the box.
Stephen Keshi’s side played out the final ten minutes with ten men following a red card for Ogenyi Onazi during the pre-penalty melee, but the visitors’ man advantage wasn’t enough for Chad to stage an unlikely late comeback.
The match marked Stephen Keshi’s return to the national team top job after being re-appointed by Amaju Pinnick and the Nigeria Football Federation.
The Big Boss opted to include several new faces in his first starting XI back in the hotseat, and understandably, Nigeria were disjointed and lacked cohesion during the opening 45 minutes.
The terrible pitch in Kaduna hardly helped, and the Super Eagles struggled to retain possession in the face of an uneven surface and well-organised Chadian pressure.
Ahmed Musa and Salami both took the opportunity to demonstrate their dribbling ability with the ball at their feet early on, but both—the former in particular—was guilty of poor delivery.
Chad also had their chances, and could have taken the lead on 17 minutes, when Marius Mbaiam’s shot flew wide of Vincent Enyeama’s post.
Michael Babatunde, returning to the starting lineup for the first time since the World Cup defeat to Argentina last summer, struggled to get a handle on the game from the heart of the park. The midfielder worked tirelessly, but failed to demonstrate the creativity that the Super Eagles were looking for.
After the break, doubtless following some terse words from Keshi, Nigeria began to impose themselves.
Kingsley Madu, one of the debutants, began to show his quality in possession, while his counterpart in the right-back berth, Leon Balogun, was similarly confident with the ball at feet.
It took two changes to break the deadlock, however, with Ibrahim Rabiu replacing Babatunde, and Ighalo coming on for the injured Aaron Samuel.
It was the latter who made the telling contribution, first setting-up Salami for the opener-a powerfully struck shot into the roof of the net-before firing home himself from the spot after winning the penalty.
Onazi’s late red was an unfortunate footnote, with the Lazio midfielder dismissed after shoving a Chad defender in a momentary lapse of discipline.
While the victory ensured that Nigeria got their Group G campaign off to a winning start, Keshi’s return to the side, and the indifferent performance of his chosen team, failed to truly erase memories of the disastrous 2015 qualifying campaign.
There is still much work to be done, both for the Super Eagles to secure a spot in Gabon, and for the Big Boss to mend his tarnished reputation.