The Super Eagles of Nigeria commence their quest for a fourth African Cup of Nations title today (Sunday) against the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Ebimpe Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
Despite being touted as favourites, alongside the Ivorians who secured a victory in the championship opener against minnows Guinea Bissau, Nigeria’s preparations have faced disruptions due to the withdrawals of Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Boniface, and Sadiq Umar. Additionally, Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho is uncertain for today’s match.
On the field, the situation is not any more favourable. The loss to the Syli Nationale of Guinea in the preparatory game has cast uncertainties on the tactical acumen of the manager, Jose Peseiro.
There has also been some apprehension about squad imbalance, although Peseiro swiftly dismissed this concern during the pre-match press conference on Saturday.
“I believe in my players, in all of them, from the goalkeeper to the striker. Every team sometimes has more power in certain positions. It happens to all national teams,” Peseiro told reporters in Abidjan.
The manager also affirmed that Terem Moffi, stepping in for the injured Boniface, will not be available for Sunday’s match. Meanwhile, Iheanacho and the late addition Paul Onuachu have only recently arrived in Ivory Coast.
As a result, the Super Eagles are likely to rely heavily on Victor Osimhen, the recently crowned African Best Player and the leading scorer in qualifying with 10 goals, for the majority of their offensive prowess.
Despite the withdrawals, Peseiro is still armed with Africa’s best attackers, including Moffi, Samuel Chukwueze, Moses Simon, and Ademola Lookman.
As for the Super Eagles’ opponents, Equatorial Guinea, who have not secured a win in their last two encounters, draw inspiration from their remarkable record of consistently reaching the last eight whenever they participate in the continental showpiece.
Juan Micha’s team arrives in Cote d’Ivoire in exceptional form, having remained unbeaten in 11 competitive and non-competitive games. This includes victories in World Cup qualifying matches against Namibia and Liberia, both achieved without conceding a goal.
Equatorial Guinea is additionally boosted by the presence of striker Emilio Nsue, a pivotal figure in their aspirations for success at AFCON 2021.
While success against the Nigerians is not guaranteed, Manager Micha believes his team has the capability to pose a threat to their opponents.
“We have an ambition in this tournament; we want to win it. We are aware of what to do; we want to give our best
“We have a complicated game tomorrow. Nigeria is among the favourites, but we we have prepared ourselves to be at the highest level.
“They have players missing, and they have replacements; we are aware of Nigeria’s potential, and we have our potential, too. We have prepared for the game,” he told a press conference on Saturday.
Facts and figures about the game
1. This marks the inaugural meeting between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Their prior encounters took place during the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with Nigeria emerging victorious in both matches (1-0 and 2-0).
2. Nigeria is making its 20th appearance at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. They have secured victory in the tournament three times (1980, 1994, 2013) and remarkably reached the semi-finals in 14 out of their last 17 AFCON participations.
3. Nigeria experienced defeat in the finals the last time the CAF Africa Cup of Nations took place in Côte d’Ivoire, as they succumbed to a 3-1 loss against Cameroon in 1984.
4. Nigeria has been formidable in recent CAF Africa Cup of Nations campaigns, winning 12 out of their last 15 matches (with 3 losses). Their most recent draw in the tournament occurred during the 2013 group stages when they played to a 1-1 result against Zambia.
5. Nigeria dominated the 2023 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, recording the highest goal tally of 22 in six games among the 24 participating teams. Victor Osimhen stood out by contributing 10 goals, twice the amount of any other player (with four players scoring 5 goals each).
6. Equatorial Guinea is making its fourth appearance in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, but it’s only the second time they have qualified as non-hosts. They have consistently reached the knockout stages, securing a spot as quarter-finalists in 2012 and 2021 and finishing in 4th place in 2015.
7. In their previous 15 matches at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Equatorial Guinea has never scored more than two goals in a single game.
8. Out of Equatorial Guinea’s total of 11 goals at AFCON, only two have been scored in the first half of matches.
9. Victor Osimhen played a crucial role in Nigeria’s qualifying campaign, directly contributing to 55% of the team’s goals with 10 goals and 2 assists. This achievement represents the highest goal tally in the qualifying phase of an AFCON edition since Moumouni Dagano with Burkina Faso in 2010, who scored 12 goals.
10. Even though Victor Osimhen contributed 10 out of Nigeria’s 22 goals, the team boasted a total of 10 different goal-scorers during the qualifying rounds for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, surpassing all other teams in diversity.
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