ODION Ighalo came off the bench to score the goal that gave former champions Nigeria a 1-0 victory over stubborn minnows – Swallows of Burundi on Saturday in the opening Africa Cup of Nations Group B match.
The Shanghai Shenhua forward had been on the pitch only four minutes in Egyptian Mediterranean city Alexandria when he struck the 77th-minute winner.
It was an unconvincing performance from the three-time trophy-holders, who lacked attacking sharpness against well-organised opponents.
Bookmakers have made Nigeria fourth-favourites to win the competition, behind hosts and record seven-time champions Egypt, Senegal and Ghana.
Debutants Burundi battled bravely throughout before a small crowd that included four-time African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto’o from Cameroon, one of the tournament ambassadors.
The Swallows, who qualified at the expense of a Gabon team including Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, lie 89 places below Nigeria in the world rankings.
But they showed no signs of inferiority during the opening half in the ancient city and came closest to breaking the deadlock during the first 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, Ghana will take their turn at the Nations Cup tomorrow when they take on the Squirrels of Benin in a cagey Group F clash. The Black Stars are in the same group with Cameroon and Guinea Bissau.
Super Eagles of Nigeria win opening game