Stephen Keshi's men got off their campaign at the African Nations Championship on a losing note as they bowed to their West African foesNigeria kicked off their debut African Nations Championship campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Mali at the Cape Town Stadium in Group A's second fixture.
Goals from Abdoulaye Sissoko and Adama Traore were all Les Aigles needed to beat Stephen Keshi's men who got their lone goal through a header from substitute Gbolahan Salami.
Djibril Dramé’s men came into the game with the intention of avenging their defeat in the hands of the Super Eagles and also to record their first win in the history of the competition.
The game took off on a competitive note with both sides battling for possession but it was the French-speaking West Africans that signified their intentions early through Ibourahima Sidibe who was adjudged offside.
Nigeria looked like strangers on the field of play as Mali took total control of the match and in the process piled pressure on the Super Eagles defence. Goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim punched Abdoulaye Sissoko’s corner kick into the waiting hands of Lassana Diarra, but his efforts was cleared by Azubuike Egwuekwe.
The Malian dominance paid off in the 18th minute when impressive Sissoko got the curtain raiser. The striker profited from a moment of carelessness from Nigeria's defence as he capitalised on Egwekwe’s deflection to thunder the ball past a hapless Agbim .
Mali continued to dominate and could have gone two goals up but Agbim was able to save Diarra’s missile outside the penalty area.
Nigeria's best chance came in the 33rd minute after Ugonna Uzochukwu was brought down in the danger zone of the Malians. The resulting free kick was saved by goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite.
Les Aigles provided strong resistance in the closing stages of the first half as Keshi’s men continued the chase for an equaliser, though they lacked cohesion in midfield.
On resumption of the second half, Mali continued to pile more pressure on the Nigerians' defence and got an early corner in the process with Traore's delivery cleared off the line while Diarra's follow-up shot was blocked.
Mali doubled their advantage in the 50th minute when unmarked Adama Traore received a chip from Sidibe before firing the ball past Agbim from a very tight angle.
The goal seemed to waken the Nigerians from their slumber as they pulled a goal back through substitute Salami in the 54th minute. The Shooting Stars striker flicked in a header from a cross off Rabiu Ali's free kick. All efforts to level up scores proved futile as Drame’s men looked resolute in defence.
Nigeria’s next game is against Mozambique on January 15 at the Cape Town Stadium. The Mambas lost their opening game against hosts South Africa 3-1 despite taking the lead.