Hosts Egypt got the African Cup of Nations up and running yesterday with a 1-0 victory against Zimbabwe and today the competition continued with its next round of fixtures.
DR Congo had the challenge of defeating Uganda in their opening Group A fixture whereas a talented Nigeria side faced AFCON newbies Burundi in Group B.
Like all major competitions, each and every result is critical for each nation’s respective fortunes so all involved in today’s fixtures knew they had to ensure they gave a good performance.
With that being said, here are eight things that you may have missed from today’s AFCON fixtures.
1. Uganda heading for glory
Going into this match following a 1-0 friendly win over AFCON contenders Ivory Coast, Uganda faced a tough opening fixture against Group A rivals DR Congo.
They got off to the perfect start, scoring after just 14 minutes from a Patrick Kaddu header, only his second international goal to date.
Moments into the second 45, Uganda were 2-0 up, with another header finding the back of the net. Emmanuel Okwi – who domestically plays for Tanzania Simba – nodded home to double his nation’s lead over their opposition.
In truth, Uganda were well worth their victory come the final whistle, mustering more shots, shots on target and corners than DR Congo who never really looked like winning, coming closest to scoring with a Yannick Bolasie effort against the crossbar.
A fantastic start for Uganda who leap above hosts Egypt to the top of the group.
2. 2013 AFCON winners return with a win
Today marked an important moment for all associated with Nigeria as they made their first appearance in AFCON since 2013, having failed to qualify for the previous two tournaments.
Nigeria won the 2013 AFCON and despite their lack of outings in the competition across the past few years, the Super Eagles are considered one of the more likely candidates to get their hands on the trophy.
Their disappointing 2018 World Cup memories – where they lost late on to Argentina to exit the tournament via the group stages – seemed to still be with them, as they struggled to break down the Burundi barrier, with Burundi themselves coming close themselves to edging ahead in the tie.
Picking up three points today – beating Burundi 1-0 – is the start they needed but their performances will need to improve if they are to turn their potential into substance this summer.
3. First AFCON appearance for Burundi
If it has been a short while for Nigeria to show their face at AFCON, then it has been an eternity for Burundi, who today made their first official appearance in the competition.
Head coach Olivier Niyungeko did what no other Burundi manager had done before and led the country to their first major competition despite their current Fifa ranking placing them as the 134th in the world.
Today’s match against Nigeria had to be considered a momentous occasion and despite being clear outsiders to do well in this year’s AFCON, they certainly proved that they won’t be a pushover in fixtures to come.
4. Current/ex-domestic stars in action
Despite only being two fixtures, there were plenty of recognisable faces on show as Premier League stars – past and present – took to the field of play.
For DR Congo – as mention above – Everton’s Yannick Bolasie came closest to scoring for his side while West Ham United full-back Arthur Masuaku couldn’t stop Uganda scoring one in each half. Newcastle’s Chancel Mbemba and Middlesbrough forward Britt Assombalonga also made an appearance.
Elsewhere, former Watford forward Odion Ighalo saved the day for Nigeria as he struck just four minutes after coming on as a substitute in the second half. He was expertly assisted by recent Chelsea departee Ola Aina who cleverly backheeled the ball through to assist the former Hornet.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi looked uninspired, Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi played his part, while former Fox Ahmed Musa helped change the game late on, using his pace to frighten the opposition defence.
5. Return of John Obi Mikel
All who know a thing or two about football will know all about John Obi Mikel, who has spent the majority of his career finding success with Chelsea both domestically and in Europe.
The defensive midfielder led Nigeria as their captain at last summer’s World Cup in Russia but seemingly parted from his international duties following their disappointing exit.
However, following Nigeria’s qualification for this year’s AFCON, John Obi Mikel returned to the squad as captain and made his first competitive start for his country since June 2018.
But his influence wasn’t telling, with Nigeria struggling to assert their dominance and as they sought a second-half winner, Mikel made way before the hour mark.
6. Sadio Berahino leads Burundi
You’d be forgiven for not knowing too much about some of the players among the Burundi squad, but one man you should recognise is former West Bromwich Albion turned Stoke City forward Sadio Berahino.
The former England youth player hasn’t exactly excelled from his promising status of years ago, with his off the field problems creating far more headlines than his feet ever have.
However, the 25-year-old – who currently has a domestic goalscoring record of 52 goals in 210 games for all clubs – failed to produce any moments of magic for his motherland who despite teasing with moments in the final third, never really looked like picking up all three points.
7. Odion Ighalo continues scoring record
The very definition of an impact substitution.
Put through on goal mere moments after entering the field of play, Ighalo didn’t need any time to get used to the momentum of the match and duly placed his effort in the bottom right corner of the Burundi net.
The forward’s place on the substitutes bench was perhaps a surprise prior to kick-off with Ighalo the highest scorer in all of the AFCON qualifiers, netting seven goals in total.
8. Nigeria’s gorgeous jersey
Last but certainly not least, it was the talk of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, at least among the shirt lovers of the football community.
Nigeria’s famous green strip made its return to a major competition since its departure from our screens last summer.
There is no major news to report here, other than the fact that this strip is still considered a beauty of a kit, at least in the eyes of this humble writer.