Coach Augustine Eguavoen and his Super Eagles’ wards face a stern test of their credentials when Nigeria and seven-time champions Egypt go for each other’s jugular in the opening match of Group D of the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations finals on Tuesday.
Venue and time
Nigeria, Egypt records
Egypt swept the stakes at the first two editions of Africa’s flagship football competition, in 1957 and 1959, and then won on home soil in 1986 and in Burkina Faso 12 years later, before a hat-trick of consecutive titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Nigeria soared to glory on home soil in 1980, won in Tunisia in 1994 and overturned bookmakers’ predictions to triumph in South Africa nine years ago.
Both teams are not unfamiliar to themselves at the AFCON, with the Pharaohs hammering the Eagles 6-3 in Nigeria’s first-ever match at the competition (in Ghana in 1963) and coming from behind to tame the Eagles 3-1 in the city of Benguela (Angola) in 2010.
On their march to victory in 1980, the Eagles sailed past the Pharaohs 1-0 in a group phase clash in Ibadan, and four years later, following a pulsating 2-2 draw in a semi final match in Bouake (Cote d’Ivoire), Nigeria won on penalties to reach the final against Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions.
What Nigerians should expect – Eguavoen
Eguavoen, who leads Nigeria from the bench on Tuesday, was involved in that cagey affair in the cold of central Tunis, but envisages that there will be nothing cagey about Tuesday’s game in the sunny atmosphere of Stade Roumdé Adjia.
He said, “I look forward to an interesting game between two ambitious teams. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we will take it one match at a time. For now, we see the clash with Egypt and all our plan is how to earn the three points. The Egyptians are a strong team and will come with a lot of confidence and the steam, but we will also be going to the field with a lot of confidence and steam. It is going to be an interesting evening.”
Osimhen, Ighalo absent
Nigeria are without top marksman Victor Osimhen, and 2019 AFCON top scorer Odion Ighalo was held back by his Saudi Arabia club. However, the absences create opportunities for a number of young guns to make hay at Africa’s grand house party.
Players to watch out for
Former U-17 star Taiwo Awoniyi is expected to lead the line and the reproduce some of his potency from which German Bundesliga club Union Berlin is benefitting, with Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho and Czech Republic -based Peter Olayinka also on the line.
Skipper Ahmed Musa and Samuel Chukwueze hit target in the training match with Cameroonian top club, Cotonsport Garoua on Friday, and there are also Greece –based Henry Onyekuru and former Olympics star Sadiq Umar as possibilities in the frontline.
Injury has kept out midfield linchpin Oghenekaro Etebo, but Wilfred Ndidi will still enforce and former U17 World Cup –winning captain Kelechi Nwakali is expected to step up to the plate and show muscle in the playmaker’s role.
Defender Leon Balogun’s forced absence, through injury, means Italy-based right back Tyrone Ebuehi will probably start while Chidozie Awaziem and Kenneth Omeruo hold sway in central, and Portugal –based Zaidu Sanusi will contend with the left back role with the versatile Olaoluwa Aina.
Salah for Egypt
Egypt depends heavily on Liverpool ace Mohamed Salah, recently shortlisted for the FIFA Best Player award.
Why Nigeria should win