Nigeria’s Super Eagles will kick start their AFCON 2021 campaign with a true test of readiness when they trade-tackle the Pharaohs of Egypt in Group D opener game today at the Estadio Roumde Adjia in Garoua, Cameroon.
Both sides enjoyed a fairly comfortable Africa Cup of Nations qualification, and will hope to make a statement winning their first match of the tournament.
The Super Eagles and the Pharaohs have faced off nine times at the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria holding the upper hand with three wins to Egypt’s two, although their last encounter in 2010 went to the Pharaohs (3-1 in the group phase).
Nigeria’s Super Eagles are three-time AFCON Champions while their Egyptian opponent have lifted the trophy an impressive seven times. The North African side’s impressive tally makes them the most successful team in the tournament’s history.
Speaking ahead of today’s encounter in Garoua, Coach Austin Eguavoen, who guided Nigeria to third place finish at the 2006 AFCON in Egypt, said it will be an interesting clash and his target is to pick all the three points at stake.
“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 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,” Eguavoen said.
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.
Former junior international and Union Berlin of Germany forward, Taiwo Awoniyi, is expected to lead the line and reproduce some of his potency from which German Bundesliga side 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.
The Pharaohs themselves have players who would cause problems for the Super Eagles defence. Star player Mohammed Salah is currently in the form of his life.
Salah will be joined by Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny and Aston Villa’s Mahmoud Hassan Trezeguet. They will all be expected to lead the charge as Egypt battle to claim a record eight African titles.
The game looks delicately poised with two African footballing powerhouses deadlocked and looking to claim a win and the bragging rights.
Victory for either side will send a statement of intent to every other team at the Africa Cup of Nations. The match is also fairly important for knockout round draws, as the second placed team in the group faces the winner of Group E (which has Algeria, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea) in the Round of 16.
Meanwhile, Liverpool star Sadio Mane converted a penalty deep in added time to snatch a fortunate 1-0 win for Senegal over Zimbabwe in the Africa Cup of Nations Group B opener on Monday in Bafoussam.
Disaster struck the gallant underdogs when a shot hit the right arm of Kelvin Madzongwe and Mane sent goalkeeper Petros Mhari the wrong way with the resulting penalty on 97 minutes to settle a lackluster affair.
While Senegal, one of the favourites to win a competition delayed twice by Covid-19, dominated possession, they rarely threatened to break down a well-organised Zimbabwe defence.
In Group C, Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal seized on a loose ball to score seven minutes from time and secure a 1-0 win over Ghana in their opening Group C match on Monday.
Boufal hammered home from close range after a mazy run into the penalty area from Zakaria Aboukhlal that saw him tease the Ghana defence, only to be checked by Thomas Partey, with the ball then running perfectly for Boufal to score.
The goal came from a rare chance in a game where both sides showed defensive prowess but did little to impress in attack.