Imama Amapakabo’s Olympic Eagles got the defence of their U23 Africa Cup of Nations title to a disastrous start and their bid to secure qualification for next year’s Olympics in Tokyo on shaky ground with a 1-0 defeat to Cote d’Ivoire at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Saturday.
A highly controversial 71st penalty by Ivorian forward Silas Gnaka put the West Africans temporary at the top of Group B although replays later suggested the entire ball didn’t cross the line.
Goalkeeper Adamu Abubakar thought he had saved the penalty on the line but the referee ruled it had crossed the line and gave the goal.
Olisa Ndah had conceded the penalty in the 70th minute earning a red card for the foul.
The Olympic Eagles who were missing the services of substantive captain Azubuike Okechukwu and striker Taiwo Awoniyi could have taken the lead in the 65th minute but Orji Okonkwo’s goal-bound header from a corner kick rebounded off the crossbar.
Substitute Sunusi Ibrahim then went close to a leveller in the 87th minute but his low shot whistled past the post with the Ivorians holding on for the win.
The loss portends a bad omen for the U23 Eagles who crashed out of the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2011 following a 1-0 loss to Morocco in their opening game. In winning the trophy in 2015, Nigeria beat Mali 3-2 in their opening game and would there’s no repeat of the 2011 scenario.
South Africa and Zambia face off in Group B’s other fixture later on Saturday.
Nigeria would have Okechukwu and Awoniyi available when they take on Zambia in their second game on Tuesday 12 November at the Al Salam Stadium, Cairo.