ALEXANDRIA – The Super Eagles of Nigeria blazed into the quarterfinals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with an explosive 3-2 victory over bitter rivals and defending champions The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon at the Alexandria Stadium.
A brace by Odion Ighalo and an exquisite finish by Alex Iwobi gave the Eagles the goals that took them past Cameroon in what was a first meeting at the AFCON between both sides in fifteen years.
Stephane Bahoken had equalized for Cameroon after Ighalo’s 19th minute opener before Clinton Njie gave the defending champions the lead in a dramatic first half.
This was a fixture fitting for the final Gernot Rohr had said in the pre-match press conference on Friday and it did live up to the billing. This after all, was Nigeria against Cameroon. Fewer matchups in AFCON history can compare to this long running rivalry.
Thrice Nigeria had suffered heartbreaks to Cameroon in AFCON finals but the Super Eagles have not lost to the Indomitable Lions since that heartbreaking penalty shootout final loss at the National Stadium in Lagos in 2000.
Indeed, the last meeting between both sides ended in a 2-1 victory for Nigeria over Cameroon who were defending champions then as they were now.
The signs of an explosive encounter were apparent from kickoff when both sides conceded corners in the first two minutes.
Nigeria’s team contained five changes from the side that lost against Madagascar with Daniel Akpeyi, Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi, Moses Simon and Kenneth Omeruo all coming in to the team.
Cameroon’s coach Dutch legend Clarence Seedorf has rarely maintained the same system for two consecutive games and he was at it again switching to a back three go along with the three changes to his starting eleven from the goalless draw against Benin.
In came defender Georges Mandjeck as part of the three-man defence, with Christian Bassogog and Clinton Njie coming into an attack that has failed to catch fire with just two goals scored in their three games – the same number as their opponents, Nigeria.
But while Seedorf might have been worried about the attack, it was a previously impervious defence that let him down in the end.
Ighalo became the first player to breach the Indomitable Lions’ defence when his snap shot from Chidozie Awaziem’s cross in the box deflected off Ambrose Onyongo into the net in the 19th minute. It was no surprise that it was Ighalo who scored. The striker has a good record against Cameroon having scored twice and created a goal in three previous meetings with Cameroon.
Nigeria were on top from that moment on with the Cameroonians happy to sit back and then launch counter attacks with long balls in an attempt to bypass Nigeria’s midfield.
From bossing the game, the Super Eagles gradually became careless as a strange jitteriness spread through the backline so that when Cameroon drew level, it came as no surprise.
Ahmed Musa had broken free past in the 39th minute but his attempted layoff for Ighalo was cut out and from that piece of action Cameroon regained the initiative as a strange pandemonium spread through Nigeria’s defence.
It started with Omeruo, Ndidi and Akpeyi all failing to clear simple balls. On the touchline, Rohr motioned for calm but his admonition fell on deaf ears. Cameroon were finding joy with the long balls to the flanks and one such found Christian Bassogog whose lovely cross fell invitingly for Stephane Bahoken to ghost in behind a lax Omeruo for a simple tap in.
The Super Eagles had shown a worrying mental frailty in the 2-0 loss to Madagascar last time out and for all the rallying cries of the players before the game, their actually actions against Cameroon after they conceded the equalizer was eerily similar to the Madagascar game as they fell behind three minutes later.
Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana threw yet another long punt into Nigeria’s half, Omeruo was beaten in the air by Bahoken whose flick on Clinton Njie ran onto before casually shrugging off Aina’s feeble challenge and side footing past Akpeyi. The Indomitable Lions had turned it around went into halftime in the lead.
The Super Eagles began the second half with the sort of purpose they’d rarely shown in this tournament and were level after eighteen minutes as Ighalo struck once again. Awaziem sent in a cross from the right, Musa’s attempt to control with his chest put the ball into Ighalo’s part and the striker promptly dispatched with aplomb although there were shades of offside about the goal.
It was now Cameroon’s turn to fall apart as Nigeria found sails beneath their wings, launching attack after attack and were ahead three minutes later.
Nigeria’s last meeting with Cameroon witnessed one of the greatest individual performances by the legendary Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha and it was his nephew who struck the winner in the sixty-third minute barely twenty-four hours after he’d attempted to downplay expectations of him replicating his uncle’s performance fifteen years ago.
Ighalo could have had a hattrick as he was first denied by Onana in the 76th minute before the post kept out his goal bound header in the 84th minute.
Both no further goals were needed as the Eagles soared past the Indomitable Lions and must now wait to know the identity of their opponents between Egypt and South Africa who play later today.