CAIRO (AP) Odion Ighalo scored a late winner four minutes after coming on as a substitute to see a relieved Nigeria squeeze past tournament debutant Burundi 1-0 at the African Cup of Nations on Saturday.
Nigeria had been warned when the second day of the tournament opened with its first major surprise: Uganda, playing at the Cup of Nations for the first time in 41 years, beat former champion Congo 2-0.
Nigeria ultimately prevailed over the newcomers when Ighalo pounced to bury his chance in Egypt’s second largest city of Alexandria.
The forward slipped in behind the Burundi defense after a backheeled pass by Ola Aina. He opened his body and stroked a right foot shot across the goalkeeper and into the far corner.
Three-time champion Nigeria deserved the win on the second half evidence, but not on the first 45 minutes.
Then, Burundi was the more adventurous team on the biggest day in its soccer history.
Cedric Amissi controlled a long pass superbly but had his shot blocked by Nigeria `keeper Daniel Akpeyi. Akpeyi struggled to keep out a powerful long-range free kick by Gael Bigirimana and Frederic Nsabiyumva hit the crossbar with a header.
“It was a very difficult game,” Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel said. “It was tough. We knew that they are a tough team. They can run and run and run.”
Napoli failed to restore its eight-point lead over AC Milan in the Serie A table as Carlo Ancelotti’s squad required an 86th minute goal to earn a 1-1 road draw at Sassuolo.
Domenico Berardi put the home side up 52 minutes in as a cross from the right flank was blocked by a sliding Allan at the near post but the ball stayed in play and pinged around to Berardi who popped it into the back of the net from close range off the fingertips of a scrambling David Ospina. Gianluca Pegolo stopped Amadou Diawara’s long-range effort on 74 minutes, but Napoli managed to draw level in the 86th minute as Lorenzo Insigne collected a deflected cross and rifled it into the far corner.
Inter, meanwhile, popped off 15 shots on the SPAL defense, and while they only put two on target, they buried both those attempts in a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Matteo Politano and Roberto Gagliardini.
The hosts had the opener on the half-hour mark, but VAR ruled the goal out for a handball as Lautaro Martinez controlled a cross at the top of the box before rifling into the back of the net. After the break, Politano’s opener came on the 66th minute, collecting the ball thanks to a fortunate deflection off Pasquale Schiattarella before delivering a wonderful finish tucked inside the far corner. Gagliardini killed off the game with a sloppy volleyed effort from the penalty spot in the 77th minute and Inter moved six points in the final Champions League spot ahead of three teams level on points behind them.
Torino and Atalanta both kept pace with victories, moving up to 44 points to pull level with Roma and sit six back of Inter in fourth. Roma plays tomorrow, visiting Empoli.
Andrea Belotti bagged a winning brace as Torino went to Frosinone and came from behind to win 2-1, condemning the hosts to another week of relegation talk. Frosinone went ahead as Luca Paganini expertly headed home a corner into the far corner, giving the 19th-placed side hope. After the break, Belotti brought Torino level as he responded with a header of his own, meeting Iago Falque’s free-kick at the far post. His second featured an acrobatic finish, a low overhead kick that met Ola Aina’s headed cross in the 77th minute.
Lazio, meanwhile, fell behind the pace, slumping to a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina as Luis Muriel’s second-half goal cancelled out a Ciro Immobile opener. Lazio weathered 13 shots from the hosts, and while Fiorentina put just one on target, they scored with it as Kevin Mirallas did excellent work on the right flank and rifled in a cross to the middle where Murial simply redirected it into the far corner.
Robin Gosens was the one to send Atalanta through with a road win of its own, scoring the winner with a stunning 77th minute touch from an unbelievably tight angle nearly on the byline. Mario Pasalic’s cross was tipped by a diving Emil Audero, and with the goal open, Gosens redirected the ball over the goal line. His goal broke a 1-1 scoreline after Duvan Zapata and Fabio Quagliarella had cancelled each other out each with second-half goals.
Finally, Bologna pummeled Cagliari to earn a 2-0 win at home. The hosts ripped off a whopping 21 shots, putting nine on target that led to goals by Erick Pulgar and Roberto Soriano. The former scored from the spot in the 34th minute to open the scoring while Soriano finished it off with 13 minutes to go after great individual work on the ball at the doorstep.
After much movement, much speculation, and lots of ups and downs, the top of the Serie A table changed little from the positioning entering the weekend.
Juventus topped Sassuolo 3-0 to restore its 11-point lead at the top of the table, while AC Milan took care of Cagliari 3-0 to move back into fourth place after falling as far as seventh due to other results.
The Old Lady maintained its iron grip over Serie A with a dominant win, grabbing goals from Sami Khedira, Emre Can, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo. While Sassuolo managed to grab 50% possession in the match, they could only muster two shots on target, including none in the final hour of the game.
Ronaldo created the opener 23 minutes in as he worked space near the penalty spot and unleashed a ripper, and while that was saved well by Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli, Khedira was there to tap in the rebound at the far post. Ronaldo got his goal on a powerful header in the 70th minute to put the game away, and Can added the cherry on top with four minutes remaining, finding the far post with a low effort from a tight angle. Ronaldo also failed to get through the 90 minutes without a blooper, as he inexplicably rifled a powerful rip straight into Khedira’s face at the top of the box despite his teammate standing almost right next to him.
Milan, meanwhile, picked up a critical result in a match marred by protests. Cagliari struggled to leave its training ground earlier in the weekend as local farmers protested plunging dairy prices, hoping to stop Cagliari from making the trip to the San Siro, wanting the club to use their high profile to make a statement. The team eventually traveled, but ran into a buzzsaw.
Suso was responsible for creating the opener, as his left-footed curler was saved by Alessio Cragno, only for the rebound to ping directly off Cagliari defender Luca Ceppitelli and into the back of the net. 21-year-old Lucas Paqueta doubled the Milan lead in the 22nd minute on a cross from Davide Calabria that found Pacqueta charging to meet at the back post, scoring his first Serie A goal after joining in early January. Krzysztof Piatek made it 3-0 with 20 minutes to go on a scrappy goal that he poked through the legs of Nicoló Barella with Cragno way out of net.
While it appears the top two places in the table have been all but locked up with Juventus on 63 points and Napoli on 52, the final two Champions League spots in the Serie A table are being fought for tooth and nail. Inter, who beat Parma 1-0 on Saturday, sits third with 43 points, while AC Milan moves back into the final position with 39.
Below Milan sits Atalanta, Roma, and Lazio all on 38 points, with Torino at 34, Sampdoria at 33, and Fiorentina at 32.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Atalanta also picked up a 2-1 win over SPAL on a 79th goal from white-hot Duvan Zapata, who grabbed his 15th goal in his last 10 Serie A games. He picked up the winner on the break, with Hans Hateboer providing the fast-break delivery from the right after being sprung through by a wonderful chip from Marten De Roon.
Torino defeated Udinese 1-0 at home to stay in the hunt, with the lone strike coming from former Chelsea youth product Ola Aina just past the half-hour mark on a header, finishing a cross from Cristian Ansaldi after spectacular one-on-one work on the left flank. Torino shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu also saved his fifth-straight penalty, off the foot of Rodrigo de Paul.
Bologna and Genoa drew 1-1 on a pair of first-half goals by Mattia Destro and Lukas Lerager that cancelled out. The teams combined for 25 shots, including eight on target, but the second half was a dud as Bologna pulled out of the relegation zone but only on goal differential.