Odion Ighalo stepped off the bench to score the winner as Nigeria broke off the resilience of debutants Burundi to beat them 1-0 at the Alexandria Stadium on Saturday night and start off the search for a fourth Africa Cup of Nations title on a high note.
Ighalo had spent just four minutes on the pitch having come on for Paul Ebere on 72 minutes. The China-based forward calmly beat Burundi keeper Jonathan Nahimana on a one-on-one after running through to an outrageous assist from Ola Aina.
Aina picked up a pass from Alex Iwobi before backheeling through to Ighalo who finished the rest of the job with a calm finish.
Even as debutants, Les Hirondelles showed they were not afraid of taking on the continent’s big giants as they had the best chances to break the deadlock in the opening 45 minutes.
In the 14th minute, a well-weighted ball from Gael Bigirimana in midfield landed perfectly on Cedric Amissi’s racing feet inside the box with the winger setting himself up with the first touch, but his effort was too close to the Nigerian keeper Daniel Akpeyi.
Bigirimana had another brilliant opportunity when he struck a stinging freekick from range in the 28th minute with Akpeyi being forced to fist it away as it came with pace and power.