ALEXANDRIA, Egypt: Nigeria ousted holders and bitter rivals Cameroon from the Africa Cup of Nations, scoring twice in three minutes to come from behind and win a thrilling last-16 match 3-2 on Saturday. In a game that fully lived up to its billing, Odion Ighalo gave Nigeria a 19th-minute lead but Cameroon hit back with two goals in quick succession before halftime from Stephane Bahoken and Clinton Njie. Ighalo levelled again for Nigeria — who have lost three AFCON finals to Cameroon — in the 63rd minute amid suspicions of offside before Alex Iwobi snatched the winner for the jubilant Super Eagles three minutes later.
The win earned Nigeria a quarterfinal against South Africa who stunned hosts Egypt 1-0 later on Saturday.
Both teams finished second in their groups and had not been in the best of form and it showed with an abundance of defensive mistakes, but there was also much to admire in an end-to-end match.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said the shock defeat by Madagascar in their final group match might have benefited his side. “It did us good, it helped motivate us today to win this very difficult match,” he said.
Cameroon coach Clarence Seedorf said his team paid for sitting on their lead. “We slowed down a little too much instead of trying to score the third goal,” he said. “Obviously, Nigeria has all the quality to score goals and I think that was what went wrong, in general terms.”
It was a scrappy opening with misplaced passes by both sides until Nigeria went ahead in the 19th minute with an untidy goal.
Cameroon’s defence failed to deal with a free kick into the area and Kenneth Omeruo found Ighalo who reacted quickly and scored with a shot that was deflected into the net.
The Nigeria defence still looked vulnerable as a wild miskick by Omeruo gave Cameroon a corner and they also handed Cameroon a chance which Pierre Kunde Malong wasted by firing over.
But the game turned dramatically before halftime as Cameroon, who had not scored in their previous two games, struck twice in three minutes.
Christian Bassogog wriggled past his marker on the right and sent a perfect cross into the area, leaving Bahoken with the formality of turning the ball into the net in the 41st minute.
Nigeria had barely time to recover when Cameroon struck again with Bahoken turning provider as he flicked the ball on to Clinton Njie who raced past Olaoluwa Aina and drilled the ball into the net.
Goalkeeper Victor Akyepi made a desperate last-ditch save to prevent a Nigeria own goal early in the second half before the game took another twist.
Nigeria levelled in the 61st minute when Ahmed Musa chested the ball into the path of Ighalo to volley home. He was level with the last man although it was the sort of goal that might be ruled out for offside by the VAR system which will be introduced in the quarter-finals.
Three minutes later, Ighalo turned provider as he set up Iwobi who beat Andre Onana with a calm finish to seal a famous victory and set off wild celebrations among the Nigerian players, officials and media. — Reuters
Africa Cup of Nations
At Alexandria Stadium
Nigeria 3 (Ighalo 19, 63, Iwobi 66) Cameroon (holders) 2 (Bahoken 41, Njie 44)
At Cairo International Stadium
South Africa 1 (Lorch 85) Egypt 0