The Nigeria U23 team started their campaign at the ongoing 2019 Africa U23 Cup of Nations on a losing note as they were defeated 1-0 at Al-Salam Stadium, Cairo by their West African neighbours Cote d'Ivoire.
Silas Gnaka’s goal from the penalty spot in the 78th minute made the difference as Nigeria’s recent poor run at the age-grade competition continued.
The Olympic Eagles finished the game with 10 men following the red card handed to defender Harold Ndah in the 71st minute.
After Nigerian teams failed in both the Africa Nations Championships (Chan) qualifiers and then the Wafu tournament in Senegal, coach Imama Amapakabo had a lot to prove in Saturday’s Group B opener.
Nigeria started the game on a good note. It was the Ivorians that had the first real chance of the game but goalkeeper Adamu Abubakar made a fantastic save in the 16th minute to deny the Young Elephants a likely opener.
That effort was the major talking point of the first half as both teams failed to break the deadlock within the first 45 minutes.
With the match not going as he would have hoped, Amapakabo made two quick-fire changes in the 54th and 56th minutes respectively bringing on Sunday Faleye and Valentine Ozornwafor for Bright Enobakhare and Orji Okonkwo.
Before Okonkwo was substituted, he had a great chance to score, seeing his header come off the crossbar from a corner kick.
The Ivorians, however, grabbed a winner in the 71st minute off a controversial penalty by Gnaka, awarded by Egyptian referee Mohamed Maarouf.
With just 13 shots and two on target, Amapakabo’s troops were left licking their wounds at the end of regulation time.
Defending champions Nigeria will now need to defeat Zambia and South Africa to stand a good chance of reaching the semi-finals.
Nigeria's starting line-up vs Ivory Coast:
Adamu Abubakar (GK), Godfrey Stephen Bitok, Izuchukwu Anthony, Olisa Harold Ndah, Sincere Seth, Adam Aliyu, Kelechi Nwakali (C), Ndifreke Effiong Udo, Blessing Olabiran Muyiwa, Orji Okwonkwo, Bright Enobakhare.