Niger and Libya both squandered gilt-edged chances as they ground out a goalless stalemate in Group B of the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) in the Cameroon city of Douala on Sunday.
The former champions from North Africa were the favourites going into the match but the West Africans surprised their opponents with a swift attacking display.
The Menas had most of the chances of the match at the iconic Japoma Stadium but they engineered their failure to win the match through a number of missed chances and faulty passing in the opponent’s box.
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The biggest culprits were Issa Djibrilla and Ibrahim Boubacar as both were guilty of wastefulness in the first half following some beautiful passes from playmaker Abdoul Darankoum.
Libya goalkeeper Ahmed Azzaqa also produced some fantastic saves to keep his side in the match and keep alive their hopes of advancing from the tricky group.
Cheered on by their 1,500 supporters who arrived in Doaula earlier in the day, the Menas dominated the early exchanges but were unable to breach the defence line of the tactically-organised North Africans.
Azzaqa produced a timely save in the 24th minute to deny the advancing winger Boubacar after the rare chance of the North African defence being breached.
The Libyan defence proved resolute again on 34 minutes with defender Mansour Makkari’s timely interception denying Boubacar from inside the six-yard box and goalkeeper Azzaqa making a number of saves, including an unorthodox volley from Darankoum.
The Libyans returned from the break determined to make amends for their uninspiring performance in the first-half.
Coach Zoran Filippovic switched his tactics from their conservative first-half display by throwing more men forward which put the Niger defence under pressure from the restart.
The Menas had to rely on swift counter attacks to keep their hopes of winning the game alive which resulted in some anxious moments for the North Africans.
Two quick free-kicks near the box which were sweetly struck by Elmehdi Elhouni narrowly missed the Nigerien goalpost which looked to have sparked the West Africans into action again.
Djibrilla received an inviting pass in a tight angle in the box and needed a one-hand save from the Libyan goalkeeper to deny the winger the opportunity of breaking the deadlock.
Niger ace Adamou Mousa Issa spotted Azzaga off his line just before the hour mark but the midfielder’s piledriver from 40 yards did not cause any problems for the advancing shot-stopper.
The best chance of the game fell to Niger in the 67th minute when Ibrahima Marou was left with just the goalkeeper but he fired over the bar after defender Muad Alami failed to clear properly.
Moments later Azagga produced another fine save by diving to tip playmaker Darankoum’s curled free-kick from the edge of the box.
The North African demonstrated their final desire to win the match and when substitute Muad Eisay broke free on the left after dribbling two Nigerien defenders, right-back Amadou Horouna needed his maximum pace to check the advancing striker.
Niger will hope to improve on their finishing when they take on Congo in their next group game on Thursday while Libya will face DR Congo in the first match of the day.