The spectacle of one of Africa's great rivalries promised much but offered an infuriating affair for 85 minutes as Nigeria and Ghana faced each other down in their opening Nations' Cup game yesterday. For that long it seemed as if the only possible result was a goalless stalemate, such was Ghana's refusal to commit men forward and Nigeria's inability to exploit possession or the pace of their two strikers.
It needed the Marseilles left-back Taye Taiwo to score with five minutes remaining. The strike was not his purest of the night, but on other occasions in this north Egyptian tax-free city, he showed he has a heavy-duty shot.
Yet it is Ghana, here without the injured Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, who are going to the World Cup finals as one of Africa's five representatives. Italy are in their group, and on this evidence Ghana will have to improve by some margin to have a chance of progressing in five months' time.
Nigeria, too, were weakened, playing without the injured Jay-Jay Okocha, and with Nwankwo Kanu only fit to start on the bench, but they played a more progressive and probing game.
Taiwo, who showed he can also beat a player or two in a tight spot, provided the first evidence of his ability after 25 minutes. From 35 yards out, it was all the Ghana goalkeeper Sammy Adjei could do to palm the ball away. Adjei, with his frequent dropping of the ball, showed that he could be a liability but he was not at fault for the goal. A loose ball rolled out to Taiwo and his first-time hit from 18 yards deflected past Adjei.
Before that, Ghana wasted an excellent chance to lead. With 20 minutes left, Kingston Laryea volleyed from six yards but Vincent Enyeama saved smartly.
Nigeria 4-4-2: Enyeama (Bnei Yehuda); Odiah (CSKA Moscow), Yobo (Everton), Enakarhire (Dynamo Moscow), Taiwo (Marseilles); Odemwingie (Lille; Nsofor, 83), Ayila (Dynamo Kiev), Oruma (Marseilles), Obodo (Udinese; Nwaneri, 89); Martins (Internazionale), Aghahowa (Shakhtar Donetsk; Kanu, 80).
Ghana 4-4-1-1: Adjei (Ashdod); Dramani (Red Star Belgrade), Kuffour (Roma), Ahmed (Kotoko), Painstil (Hapoel Tel Aviv); Kingston (KS Samara), Mensah (Cremonese), Pappoe (Hapoel Kfar; Frimpong, 89), Abubakari (Vitesse Arnhem; Sarpei, 74); Appiah (Fenerbahce); Amoah (Borussia Dortmund).
Referee: E Fattah (Egypt).
* The Senegal striker Henri Camara inspired his side to a 2-0 win over Zimbabwe in their opening Group D match. Camara made the breakthrough with a well-taken goal on the hour and then set up the second for the substitute Issa Ba to seal the points with his first touch of the ball in the 81st minute.Reuse content