Nigeria avoided a shocking loss to Equatorial Guinea in their opening 2023 Africa Cup of Nations match thanks to Victor Osimhen’s fast equalizer. Osimhen nodded in straight after Iban Salvador’s opener for the underdogs.
Salvador’s elegant first-half goal was his team’s sole effort on goal and gave them a fleeting chance to pull off a huge upset in the tournament’s second match.
Osimhen missed after breaking free, but Jesus Owono made several stops in the second half to keep the Super Eagles at bay.
Both teams are now two points behind Ivory Coast, who defeated Guinea-Bissau 2-0 on Saturday to open the tournament, as a result of the draw in their Group A match in Abidjan.
Equatorial Guinea, ranked 46 spots lower than Nigeria in the world, celebrated after taking the lead, but they immediately gave it away when Osimhen converted Ademola Lookman’s cross and were under pressure for much of the game. Goalkeeper Owono was in inspired form but breathed a sigh of relief when African Footballer of the Year Osimhen misfired after being sent through by Fulham midfielder Alex Iwobi with 14 minutes remaining.
The Super Eagles had an early opportunity when debutant Alhassan Yusuf’s cross found the full-back in space inside the penalty area, but Zaidu Sanusi hoisted it high over the bar. Osimhen, who was the top scorer in the tournament qualifying round, also missed a good chance when the game was tied by Ola Aina’s inviting cross wide.
Nigeria, the three-time continental winners, are looking to lift the trophy for the first time since 2013, but they were unable to get past rivals who had defeated the defending champions Algeria on route to the 2021 finals’ quarterfinals.
Owono deflected a low shot from Moses Simon against his left-hand upright shortly before halftime and also kept out efforts from Sanusi, Osimhen, and Aina as the second half went on.
Equatorial Guinea will play Guinea-Bissau on Thursday at 14:00 GMT at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium.
Nigeria take on Ivory Coast at the same venue in the subsequent game (17:00 GMT), pitting two teams considered strong contenders for the title against each other.