Samuel Chukwueze threatened to cause early damage as he glided past Duhaindavy and the adjacent midfielder to cut inside from the right flank. He was not able to take a shot, but his penetrating run provided an initial impetus to the Super Eagles. The Villareal winger forced a superb save from Jonathan Nahimana.
Against the run of play, Burundi were inches away from gaining an unexpected lead as Shasir Nahimana’s exquisite aerial through ball found Cedric Amissi who failed to score past the Nigerian midfielder.
Despite showing plenty of energy, Obi Mikel’s side was not able to impose itself on Burundi as the robust four-man midfield of Francis Mustafa, Gael Bigirimana, Cedric Amissi, and Shasir Nahimana disrupted Nigeria’s rhythm.
It was turning out to be a frustrating affair for Nigeria as they were unable to generate clear-cut chances against an inferior Burundi side. But Gernot Rohr’s smart substitutions earned his team a crucial three points at the Alexandria Stadium.
Without wasting much time, let us take a look at the three reasons behind Nigeria’s 1-0 win against Burundi.
#1 Gernot Rohr’s astute substitutions did the trick for his Nigeria team
The Nigeria coach surprised a few with the starting lineup he chose by excluding the likes of Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo. Gernot’s decision was looking even worse as Onuacho failed to trouble Burundi’s back-line.
Alex Iwobi failed to make a mark from the left flank against Burundi who defended in a low block with wingers supporting their full-backs to patrol the wider areas.
John Obi Mikel was installed as a number 10 in Rohr’s 4-2-3-1 system and looked clueless for the major part of the game. The former Chelsea man failed to provide urgency in attacks and fell prey to Burundi’s offside trap on a regular basis. He supported a few neat passing moves but his unfamiliarity with the role vas clearly visible.
Rohr played a master-stroke by introducing Ahmed Musa in the 61st minute. The former Leicester City attacker used his blistering pace to make runs in behind the defence and Burundi player’s tired legs were unable to cope with his intensity. The Saudi Arabia-based winger allowed Iwobi to operate centrally and influence the game.
Odion Ighalo came on for Onuachu in the 73rd minute and scored the winner four minutes later. Aina made a clever backheel pass to the 30-year-old and he obliged after scoring a clinical goal past the Burundi goalkeeper.
The Shanghai Shenhua striker used his muscular stature to hold the ball towards the higher end of the pitch during the game’s dying minutes. Rohr used Burundi’s fatigue to his advantage and helped his team in accumulating three vital points in its opening fixture.
#2 Nigerians kept on trying until they found the opening against a determined Burundi side
The Nigeria team were the overwhelming favourites to run a riot against a team ranked 134 in the FIFA standings. It was not the case as the Super Eagles were made to work very hard to earn those three points in their opening match in Group B.
Gernot Rohr’s side were wasteful in possession for a majority of the game but they never gave up and their work-rate remained constant throughout the 90 minutes. Chukwueze asked questions through his gliding runs from the right wing.
Alex Iwobi was deployed on the left side and he worked relentlessly to create something for his side and tracked back to provide defensive cover to Ola Aina.
Akpeyi made a few important saves which denied Burundi the chance to gain an advantage over Nigeria.
The Super Eagles knocked on Burundi’s doors and found their reward eventually. Ola Aina’s assist for the winning goal was a testament to Nigeria’s desire to claim the maximum points.
#3 Burundi players failed to capitalise on their scoring chances
As mentioned earlier, Cedric Amissi forced a terrific save off Daniel Akpeyi to maintain the even score. It was not the only chance which they got in the 90 minutes against the Super Eagles.
The Nigerians had a tough time in creating clear-cut attacking opportunities due to a disrupted supply from their midfield base of Wilfried Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo. The Burundi engine room consisting of Bigirimana and Nahimana ensured that the Nigerians were not provided with much space to work within the middle of the park.
Nsabiyumva came closest to scoring for Burundi from a set piece situation as his looping header hit the crossbar and he failed to direct a volley inside the goal from the rebound.
Burundi were presented with numerous free kicks and corners but they failed to test the Nigeria shot-stopper on a prolonged basis. They managed 15 shots on goal which were the same as the Super Eagles. Out of those 15 shots, they managed to hit the target from six of them which is three more than what Nigeria managed.
This stat underscores the fact that the lack of clinical finishing hurt the African minnows big time.