Coach Augustine Eguavoen and his Super Eagles’ wards face a stern examination 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 is the 30,000 –capacity Stade Roumdé Adjia in the northern Cameroonian town of Garoua and kick-off is 5pm.
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.
In all other confrontations at the Africa Cup of Nations, the Eagles have had the upper hand.
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.
In 1990, a lone goal by Rashidi Yekini consigned the Pharaohs to defeat in a group phase match in Algiers, and in 1994, both teams battled to a scoreless draw at the Stade Chadli Zouiten in Tunis.
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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.
“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.”
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 houseparty.
Former U17 star Taiwo Awoniyi is expected to lead the line and 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.
Egypt depends heavily on Liverpool ace Mohamed Salah, recently shortlisted for the FIFA Best Player award.
Victory on Tuesday evening will provide confidence boost for the Super Eagles ahead of the other Group D ties against Sudan (January 15) and Guinea Bissau (January 19).
Serie A: Dzeko strikes late to save Inter against Venezia
Edin Dzeko made sure that Inter Milan would hold off their Serie A title rivals on Saturday with a last-gasp strike which gave the league leaders a 2-1 win over Venezia.
The Bosnian’s first goal in nine matches in all competitions put the champions five points ahead of AC Milan, who now need to beat Champions League-chasing Juventus on Sunday night to make sure that their local rivals don’t start to pull away from the chasing pack.
With the Milan derby next up after the coming international break, Dzeko’s bullet header relieves the pressure on Inter, who were below their best against spirited opposition who had come into the game hit with a host of Covid-19 cases.
Third-placed Napoli are now seven points behind Simone Inzaghi’s side before they host bottom-side Salernitana on Sunday afternoon.
Defeat was a crushing blow for Venezia, who opened the scoring through Thomas Henry but sit 17th, two points above the relegation zone.
Henry gave the away side a shock lead in the 19th minute when he met Ethan Ampadu’s deep cross with a powerful header that flew past Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
From that moment on it was almost entirely one-way traffic, with a well-organised Venezia holding off a wave of Inter attacks which lacked their usual incisiveness.
A home crowd limited to 5 000 by Covid regulations grew frustrated as hosts struggled to break down their relatively lowly opposition, with Lautaro Martinez sending a bicycle kick way over the bar 10 minutes before the break.
However they did find the breakthrough five minutes five minutes later when after Ivan Perisic’s fizzing volley was pushed away Nicolo Barella lashed home his second league goal of the season on the rebound.
A baffling Dzeko miss left fans opened-mouth just before the hour mark, the Bosnia striker somehow poking over the bar from inches away after Luca Lezzerini fumbled the ball into his path from Stefano de Vrij’s header.
Inter created little after Federico Dimarco’s powerful free-kick was pushed away but Dzeko made up for his earlier miss by meeting Denzel Dumfries cross with a header to which Lezzerini couldn’t get near.
Earlier Genoa played out a goalless draw with Udinese in the struggling Serie A side’s first match under new coach Alexander Blessin.
Blessin, a top-level novice, arrived on the Italian riviera from Belgian team KV Oostende on Wednesday as Genoa try to climb out of the drop zone.
Genoa performed with more verve than under his predecessors Andriy Shevchenko and Davide Ballardini but missed some presentable opportunities.
They kept pushing for their first league win since mid-September after Andrea Cambiaso was sent off with 11 minutes remaining.
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However they stay second-bottom in Serie A after their 20th match without victory, on 13 points, five behind Venezia.
Blessin was a left-field name for Genoa, as Oostende was Blessin’s first senior coaching position after coming up through the academy system at RB Leipzig.
He took over at Oostende in 2020 and led the team to fifth in the Belgian top flight. His former team sat 15th in the 18-team league, four points above the relegation play-off spot, when he departed for Genoa.
EPL: Man City held by Southampton
Aymeric Laporte spared Manchester City’s blushes as the Premier League leaders were held to a 1-1 draw at Southampton on Saturday.
City were rocked by Kyle Walker-Peters’ first ever top-flight goal in the opening minutes.
After a poor first half by their high standards, Pep Guardiola’s side kicked into gear after the break.
Spain defender Laporte headed the equaliser, but City could not extend their winning streak in a one-sided finale that saw the visitors lay seige to the Southampton goal.
Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte
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The champions had to settle for a result that left them 12 points clear of second-placed Liverpool, who have two games in hand and face Crystal Palace on Sunday.
For the first time since they were beaten 2-0 by Palace on October 30, City finished a league game without all three points.
Comoros hit by Covid-19 outbreak at Cup of Nations
The Comoros Islands have been hit by an outbreak of Covid-19 in their camp, including their coach and two available goalkeepers, two days before they are due to meet Africa Cup of Nations hosts Cameroon in the last 16.
A total of 12 cases have been reported in their camp, the Comoros Football Federation said on Saturday.
They now face a crisis in goal with first choice Salim Ben Boina injured and their other two keepers, Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseni, now forced to isolate.
Coach Amir Abdou, who has been in charge for the last eight years and credited for his country’s giant-killing run, is now also in quarantine.
The Comoros qualified for the last 16 against all expectations after a shock win over Ghana on Tuesday but now have a major crisis on their hands some 48 hours before the biggest game in their footballing history.
CAF has laid down strict rules regarding Covid-19 at the Cup of Nations finals.
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If a player tests positive he will not be authorised to go to the stadium or participate in the match, while teams must play as long as they have a minimum 11 players available.
If they have no goalkeeper available, another player must play in that position.
Teams that do not have a minimum of 11 players available will be considered to have lost the match 2-0, according to CAF.
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