Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo scored a brace against a physical Cameroon side as the Super Eagles won 3-2 in a thrilling Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) round of 16 match at the Alexandria Stadium on Saturday.
For many, this tasty clash came earlier than expected, but that said a fierce contest was expected as Nigeria and Cameroon engaged themselves in another supremacy battle.
After failing to pick the number one spots in their respective groups, these eternal rivals had for themselves a tortuous route as they looked to add to their AFCON titles.
While Nigeria boasts of three AFCON titles, Cameroon were looking to double that tally as they are hunting for a sixth African title in Egypt.
With captain John Obi Mikel injured, the burden of leadership was on Ahmed Musa’s shoulders.
There was terrific atmosphere in the Alexandria Stadium. There was passion and vibrancy all around the ground.
The main stand looked more like a villa and at one end we had a very nice arch with some ancient Olympic style pictures on them.
The derby was like a game of chess. After a frantic start, we reached the 10 minute mark without a single shot. Cameroon, who wore yellow and red, bossed possession
The tie was billed as a blockbuster but it didn’t get going as at 15th minute. Neither keeper was tested – too many loose passes and both teams were sloppy in possession.
Cameroon created the first serious chance of the game after 17 minutes. Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui timed his run to perfection to meet a corner but he couldn’t keep his header down and it flew over.
First blood was drawn by the Super Eagle. Having survived a scare at the other end, Nigeria won a free-kick near the corner flag.
Cameroon’s defence just couldn’t get the ball cleared and Chelsea’s Kenneth Omeruo found Odion Ighalo, whose deflected strike somehow found the net. It was scrappy but Nigeria had the lead.
Coach Clarence Seedorf looked frustrated. His side had not scored since their opening game of the tournament.
Nigeria’s determination led to the goal. After a poor free-kick they made sure the ball got into the area and caused problems. Ighalo did well to get his foot to a ball that came at him quickly.
Five minutes before half time, Cameroon were back in it. Christian Bassogog delivered a wonderful cross into Nigeria’s danger area and Stephane Bahoken applied a simple tap-in and all of a sudden Cameroon were on level terms.
The champions turned it around before half time. Nigeria’s defence was all over the place as Stephane Bahoken’s flick on sent Clinton Njie through on goal. Ola Aina couldn’t stop Njie as he raced into the penalty area and slotted beautifully beyond keeper Daniel Akpeyi.
It was end-to-end in the opening minutes before Nigeria took control of the possession and started dominating the match.
Their determination was rewarded by the opening goal. Cameroon then mounted a fight back that was helped by some poor defending most notably Kenneth Omeruo as first half ended 1-2 in favour of the Indomitable Lions.
Hosts Egypt face South Africa at 8pm in Cairo. The winners of that game will meet the winners of this tie in the quarter-finals.
If the first half was scintillating, the second stanza produced some electrifying stuffs.
Cameroon went so close to extending their lead after Nigeria’s defence again failed to react to a quickly taken set-piece. This time Pierre Kunde’s free-kick found Clinton Njie whose attempted pass came off a Nigeria shirt and looked to be heading over the line before Daniel Akpeyi stuck out a big hand to keep it out.
Two of Africa’s finest strikers were watching this game from the stands – Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o Fils and Nigeria’s Nwankwo Kanu.
Three minutes after the hour, it was all square in Alexandria. A sweeping Nigeria move brought about the equaliser as Ahmed Musa chested a cross into the path of Odion Ighalo to volley into the net from close range.
The derby turned into an AFCON classic as Nigeria restored their lead. Alex Iwobi kept his cool to fire past goalkeeper Andre Onana after Odion Ighalo turned provider with a clever pass to tee-up his team-mate. It was a lovely finish by the Arsenal man and suddenly Cameroon, the holders, were behind.
Odion Ighalo was denied his hat-trick by Andre Onana after Samuel Chukwueze’s sweet pass.
Cameroon keeper Andre Onana somehow clawed the ball away after Odion Ighalo’s header in the 83rd minute.
The referee waved play on and Ighalo couldn’t believe it wasn’t not given.
Despite the barrage of attacks by Cameroon, the Super Eagles kept it tight at the back and won 3-2.