The Super Eagles of Nigeria are going into their second group stage game in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in a very tight corner after recording an unnecessary 1-1 draw with lowly-rated Equatorial Guinea.
This means that the Super Eagles have just one chance to keep the fate of remaining in the 2023 AFCON in their hands, and unfortunately, that chance will be trialled against the hosts of the tournament, Ivory Coast, at 6 p.m. later today, January 18.
Based on Ivory Coast’s performance in their opening game in the 2023 AFCON, which was against Guinea-Bissau on January 13, the host nation looks like a team with a rhythm. During the game, they proved they could keep the ball, coordinate their movements, and take their chances accurately.
These attributes helped them to defeat Guinea-Bissau 2-0 with little or no extreme struggle. Recall that this same Guinea-Bissau team defeated the Super Eagles 1-0 in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers. Mind you, Nigeria also defeated them 1-0 in the same qualifiers.
The scary part for the Super Eagles right now is that they are third in Group A behind first-placed Ivory Coast (3 points), and Equatoria Guinea (one point). This means a draw or a defeat against the hosts later this evening could spell doom for the Eagles.
If the Eagles suffer defeat at the hands of the Ivory Coast, they will no longer be in control of their chances of qualifying for the next round, especially if Equatoria Guinea beats Guinea-Bissau.
Once the above scenario plays out, the Super Eagles must beat Guinea-Bissau in their last group stage game convincingly and hope that Ivory Coast will do them a favour by beating Equatorial Guinea squarely in their last group stage game.
Annoyingly, the Super Eagles have shown in their 1-1 draw against Equatoria Guinea that they are not clinical upfront. However, they have the best player in Africa and the 8th best player in the world, Victor Osimhen, mounting their top 9 position.
Osimhen, 25, with all the hype, missed some clear goalscoring opportunities against Equatoria Guinea, which could have given the Eagles a comfortable win and more confidence going into tonight’s encounter. Hence, the pride of having one of the best strikers in the world has been dimmed going into today’s game.
Can Osimhen find a way to reignite his goalscoring prowess tonight? The answer to this question could help make or destroy the Super Eagles’ chances of progressing to the round of 16.
The bad news is that Alhassan Yusuf, seen as the brightest star in the Eagles’ 1-1 draw on Sunday, won’t be available for today’s game due to fitness issues. Hence, the Eagles might play the game with no natural defensive midfielder which could open Nigeria’s defense more to attacks.
But the good news is that the Super Eagles have a good record against Ivory Coast as far as the AFCON is concerned. Nigeria has only lost twice and won three times in their previous six meetings with the Elephants, making the encounter fairly balanced.
Hence, the winner of the game might not be the most in-form team, the team playing at home, or the team that won or lost their opening game; the winner will be the team that wanted it the most.
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