By Toby Prince
Cameroon’s reign as Africa Cup of Nations champions has come to an end after they were beaten 3-2 by regional rivals Nigeria in a thrilling round of 16 clash at the Alexandria Stadium on Saturday.
Inspired by two goals and an assist from striker Odion Ighalo, the Super Eagles overpowered the Indomitable Lions in a match which will surely go down as a Nations Cup classic.
Nigeria looked the more proactive and threatening team early on, and they deservedly claimed the lead in the 20th minute through Odion Igahlo. The striker netted via a deflection in the penalty area after Cameroon had failed to deal with a cross from the left by-line.
In response, Cameroon looked to push higher up the field and try to bring Clinton N’Jie and Christian Bassogog more into the game, but the wide men initially had little joy against Nigeria’s fullbacks Ola Aina and Chidozie Awaziem.
Yet, after a sustained spell of pressure, the Indomitable Lions hit back to level the game in the 41st minute. Bassogog whipped in a cross from the left and Stephane Bahoken, with almost his first contribution of any note, expertly turned the ball home for 1-1.
Nigeria were then stunned with another goal concession three minutes later. Bahoken flicked on a long ball and N’Jie showed good speed and strength to hold off a challenge before striking a low shot past Daniel Akpeyi to send Cameroon into the interval with a 2-1 lead.
N’Jie almost forced a third goal early in the second half, with his low cross from the right of the penalty area deflecting off Aina and heading toward goal, but Akpeyi did well to quickly change direction and claw the ball away.
Nigeria equalised just past the hour mark, with Ighalo again getting on the score sheet. This time Awaziem provided a fine cross from the right and Ahmed Musa cleverly chested the ball into space for the striker, who turned and fired home a left-footed shot for 2-2.
And Ighalo soon went from scorer to creator, playing a lovely pass through the legs of Michael Ngaedu-Ngadjui to find the run of Alex Iwobi, who hit a low shot past goalkeeper Andre Onana to make it 3-2 to the Super Eagles in the 66th minute.
Ighalo had a great chance to complete a hat-trick in the 76th minute when a low cross from substitute Samuel Chukwueze found the striker unmarked in the penalty area, but his shot was palmed away by Onana to keep Cameroon in the contest.
However, there was no way back for the 2017 champions, allowing Nigeria through to a quarterfinal against either hosts Egypt or South Africa in Cairo on Wednesday night.