Kenneth Omeruo’s header in the 73rd minute was all Nigeria needed to beat Guinea on Wednesday in Alexandria, and become the first team to reach the round of 16 of the Total Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2019.
The victory saw Nigeria retain top spot in Group B with six points while Guinea remain third with one.
The Syli Nationale are now faced with a must win tie against Burundi in their final group match while Nigeria are certain of a place at the next phase.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr made changes to his team, with Odion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa, Leon Balogun and Moses Simon all starting, a clear intent that he was going in for an attacking game.
His Guinean counterpart Paul Put handed star midfielder Naby Keita his first start in a competitive match since May 1 as he looked to put up a solid team to get their first three points of the tournament.
Guinea showed hunger early and had a shot at goal in the second minute of the match, Ibrahim Cisse trying his luck with a shot from distance that was spilled by keeper Daniel Akpeyi and whacked away by the defense.
In the 10th minute, Alex Iwobi lost possession in midfield and the ball turned quickly into offense, Amadaou Diawara sending Sory Kaba though on goal, but a backtracking Balogun made an important intervention.
Nigeria also had their opportunities in front of goal. In the 13th minute, Wilfred Ndidi’s header off a Peter Etebo corner went just over while Ighalo hit the side netting later after being sent through by Ndidi.
In the second half, Nigeria pressed harder on the gas pedals and Iwobi had a chance on the hour mark with a well curled effort which was turned behind for a corner by the Guinean keeper.
Paul Put had to be jolted into change on 70 minutes pulling out Keita who had gone down close to three times as he was heavily bombarded by the Nigerian midfield. In his place came Alhassane Bangoura.
No sooner had Keita stepped off the pitch than Nigeria got their goal, Omeruo rising highest at the edge of the six yard box to angle a header past the keeper off a corner from Moses.
Burundi face Madagascar in the other Group E match in a battle of two debutants on Thursday in Alexandria.
Total Man of the Match: Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)
What they said:
Nigeria coach Gernot Rhor:
It was a good performance from the team today, we played really well though it was a tough game from Guinea. I am happy we could deal with the danger they posed and being the first into the round of 16 is a joy for us.
Now we have to ensure we finish off well against Madagascar in our last game to top the pool.
Goal scorer Kenneth Omeruo;
The most important thing for us as a team is getting the victory and I am really pleased I could get on the score sheet. It was a very tough game because Guinea is not an easy team and getting victory against them is a huge motivation for us.
Guinea coach Paul Put:
We had a small moment of lapse of concentration from a set piece and we conceded. It is disheartening because this was an important game for us which we really needed to win.
It is now tough for us; we must win against Burundi in our final game to stand a chance.
Guinea midfielder Naby Keita;
It wasn’t our day today but we did all we can and played to our level best. We have to keep our heads high and move to the next match with an aim to win. It is not yet over and we will fight till the end.