Nigeria’s Super Eagles began 2015 with a loss after a 0-1 defeat to the Ivory Coast in a friendly international in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
The largely home-based team held off the experienced Ivorian side till the 84th minute when Salomon Kalou got the winner for the Elephants who are preparing for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
Nigeria started the game brightly and nearly got their noses in front from a corner kick, but the final touch was not there to trouble Ivory Coast.
Gambo Mohammed played a delightful through ball for Mfon Udoh to latch on in the 15th minute, but the Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohou was quick to shut him out.
Ivory Coast had a great chance to forge ahead in the 28th minute after Gervinho brilliantly skinned Solomon Kwambe on the right and crossed for Yaya Toure whose shot was blocked by Chigozie Agbim as the Nigerian defence cleared the rebound.
Serge Aurier got behind a Serey Die corner kick, but could not keep his effort on target as the Ivorians upped the tempo towards the end of the first half with Toure leading the charge.
Goal-scoring chances were few and far between for Ivory Coast as Nigeria were able to contain their more illustrious counterparts at the end of the first half.
Swiss-born midfielder Steven Ukoh came on for Kingsley Sokari in the second half after the Enyimba player picked up an injury early in the second half.
The Super Eagles were gaining in confidence as Rabiu Ali and new entrant Ukoh pulled the strings for Nigeria, but a lack of decisiveness in the final third was their bane.
Gervinho, though isolated for long periods of the game, was always a constant threat and only a last-ditch tackle from Azubuike Egwuekwe in the 63rd minute prevented the Roma man from getting through at Agbim’s goal.
The game petered out into a drab affair as the game got into the deep end with both sides content to hold on to the ball around the midfield areas.
Rabiu Ali then gifted Ivory Coast their winner. His mistake gave Cheick Tiote the chance to run into the Nigerian defence and cross for Salomon Kalou to score for the Elephants in the 84th minute.
Kalou had another chance two minutes later to put Ivory Coast in the driver’s seat, but could not connect his header on target as the game fizzled out as a contest.
The Super Eagles will continue their United Arab Emirates tour on January 17 when they take on the Falcons of Jediane of Sudan in Abu Dhabi.
Chigozie Agbim, Solomon Kwambe, Chima Akas, Nelson Ogbonnaya, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Kingsley Sokari (Steven Ukoh), Rabiu Ali, Gambo Mohammed, Stanley Dimgba (Gbolahan Salami), Nathaniel Joseph, Mfon Udoh (Christian Obiozor).