The Super Eagles of Nigeria’s journey to a fourth African Cup of Nations starts today (Sunday) against the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Ebimpe Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
Touted as favourites alongside the Ivorians who won the championship opener against minnows, Guinea Bissau, the Nigerians’ preparations have been disrupted by a deluge of withdrawals from Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Boniface, and Sadiq Umar while Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho is also a doubt for today.
On the pitch, things are not any better. The defeat to the Syli Nationale of Guinea in the preparatory game has raised doubts about the manager, Jose Peseiro’s tactical ability.
There was also some concern about imbalance in the squad. This was, however, quickly dismissed by Peseiro at the pre-match presser 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 confirmed that Terem Moffi, who is replacing the injured Boniface will not arrive in time for Sunday while Iheanacho and late addition Paul Onuachu had only just landed in Ivory Coast.
So, the larger part of the Super Eagles’ firepower is expected to come from the recently crowned African Best Player and leading scorer in qualifying (10 goals), Victor Osimhen.
Despite the withdrawals, Peseiro is still armed with Africa’s best attackers, including Moffi, Samuel Chukwueze, Moses Simon, and Ademola Lookman.
For the Super Eagles opponents, Equatorial Guinea who are winless in their previous two encounters, continuing their impressive record of progressing to the last eight whenever they participate at the continental showpiece motivates them before Sunday’s fixture.
Juan Micha’s men go into Cote’D’Ivoire in outstanding form, unbeaten in 11 competitive and non-competitive games, including victories in World Cup qualifying games against Namibia and Liberia without conceding a goal.
They are also buoyed by the presence of striker Emilio Nsue, a key part of Equatorial Guinea’s hopes of success at AFCON 2021.
Though success is far from assured against the Nigerians, manager, Micha believes they can hurt their opponents
“We have an ambition in this tournament, we want to win the tournament. 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 will be the first encounter between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. They faced each other in the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup – Nigeria won both matches (1-0; 2-0).
2. Nigeria are making their 20th appearance at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. They have won the tournament on three occasions (1980, 1994, 2013) and reached the semi-finals in 14 of their last 17 AFCON participations.
3. Nigeria were beaten finalists the last time the CAF Africa Cup of Nations was held in Côte d’Ivoire, they lost 3-1 against Cameroon in 1984.
4. Nigeria have won 12 of their last 15 matches at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations (L3). Their last draw dates back to the 2013 group stages, against Zambia (1-1).
5. Nigeria scored 22 goals in six games during qualifying for the 2023 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the highest tally among the 24 teams at this year’s tournament. 10 of those goals came from Victor Osimhen, that’s twice as many as any other player (4 players on 5 goals)
6. This is Equatorial Guinea’s fourth CAF Africa Cup of Nations appearance, but it’s only the second time they have qualified as non-hosts. They have so far always reached the knockout stages: quarter-finalists in 2012 and 2021, and 4th place in 2015.
7. Equatorial Guinea have never scored more than two goals in their previous 15 matches at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
8. Only two of Equatorial Guinea’s 11 goals at AFCON have been scored in the first half of matches.
9. Victor Osimhen was directly involved in 55% of Nigeria’s goals during the qualifying campaign (10 goals, 2 assists). It’s the highest tally of goals scored in the qualifying phase of an AFCON edition since Moumouni Dagano with Burkina Faso in 2010 (12 goals).
10. Despite Victor Osimhen scoring 10 of their 22 goals, Nigeria had 10 different goal scorers in qualifying for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, more than any other team.