Odion Ighalo's 77th-minute goal got Nigeria off to a winning start at the 2019 African Cup of Nations on Saturday. Substitute Ighalo settled things as the Super Eagles beat Burundi 1-0 at the Alexandria Stadium in Egypt, despite struggling to impress for large portions of the match.
A Guinea squad relying on the fitness of Liverpool playmaker Naby Keita couldn't keep pace in Group B after being held to a 2-2 draw by Madagascar later in the day.
Earlier, Uganda made an impression with a 2-0 win over DR Congo in Group A. Goals from Patrick Kaddu and Emmanuel Okwi proved enough for the Cranes to move above Egypt, who beat Zimbabwe on Friday, in the standings.
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- DR Congo 0-2 Uganda
- Nigeria 1-0 Burundi
- Guinea 2-2 Madagascar
Group A (Played, Won, Drawn, Lost, Goal Difference and Points)
1. Uganda: 1, 1, 0, 0, +2, 3
2. Egypt: 1, 1, 0, 0, +1, 3
3. Zimbabwe: 1, 0, 0, 1, -1, 0
4. DR Congo: 1, 0, 0, 1, -2, 0
1. Nigeria: 1, 1, 0, 0, +1, 3
2. Guinea: 1, 0, 1, 0, 0, 1
3. Madagascar: 1, 0, 1, 0, 0, 1
4. Burundi: 1, 0, 0, 1, -1, 0
- Group C Senegal vs. Tanzania: 7 p.m. local time, 6 p.m. BST, 1 p.m. ET
- Group C Algeria vs. Kenya: 10 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. BST, 4 p.m. ET
- Group D Morocco vs. Namibia: 4:30 p.m. local time, 3:30 p.m. BST, 10:30 a.m. ET
Nigeria struggled to click in attacking areas against a resolute Burundi side. It didn't help coach Gernot Rohr left danger man Ahmed Musa on the bench for nearly an hour.
The Al-Nassr winger eventually entered the fray, but his pace and perceptive movement didn't make an immediate impact. Fortunately, Villarreal's Samuel Chukwueze remained a lively presence, combining well with Arsenal schemer Alex Iwobi during the second half.
Chukwueze couldn't make the breakthrough, but Ighalo was unerring when Ola Aina played him in 13 minutes from time. Ighalo had wasted little time adding the impetus up top Nigeria had been lacking:
The creative spark had come from Aina, as the Torino wing-back produced a slick back-heel to release the former Watford striker.
One well-worked goal proved enough for Nigeria, but the Super Eagles will have to play a lot better if they are going to make serious headway in the tournament.
Guinea appeared in control when Dijon forward Sory Kaba struck after 34 minutes. To their credit, Madagascar responded brilliantly, going in front thanks to goals from midfielder Anicet Abel and striker Carolus Andriamahitsinoro.
There was enough quality in the Guinea ranks to at least salvage a point, though. Napoli enforcer Amadou Diawara bossed midfield, while the introduction of Keita two minutes after the hour mark added much-needed creativity.
Guinea were awarded a penalty three minutes after Keita entered the fray. Romain Metanire felled Borussia Monchengladbach winger Ibrahima Traore in the box, and Francois Kamano made no mistake from the spot.
Earlier, Uganda executed their game plan flawlessly against a talented Congo squad. The latter featured several gifted players, including Everton winger Yannick Bolasie and Beijing Guoan striker Cedric Bakambu.
However, a defence led by West Ham United full-back Arthur Masuaku was undone by several swift counters from Uganda. Kaddu put the Cranes in front after just 14 minutes following a neat break.
The lead was doubled three minutes after the restart when Okwi found the net.
Congo's attempts to respond centred on the industry of Newcastle United midfielder Chancel Mbemba. Yet Mbemba and Co. struggled to get the pace and trickery of Bolasie involved enough.
The 30-year-old endured a tough first half, missing chances and drawing the ire of the referee:
With Bolasie's influence blunted, Bakambu was denied the service he needed to alter the outcome. It meant Uganda saw out the closing stages without too many problems.
Congo had disappointed, but Uganda sent a message to the Pharaohs that they won't have the group all their own way.