Thursday evening is on the horizon, signaling the impending arrival of the weekend for many. However, for us, it’s an evening dedicated to the regal spectacle of AFCON. One team boasts the leadership of the continent’s finest player, while the other is fueled by the passionate and riveting chants of its fans.
It’s the day when the Elephants face off against the Eagles. Ivory Coast takes on Nigeria – who will come out on top?
Round 2 is underway in AFCON 2023, and one of the standout matchups is Nigeria versus Ivory Coast. The host Elephants kicked off the competition with a convincing 2-0 victory over Guinea Bissau on Saturday, while Nigeria played to a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea.
- Host nations have only lost one of their last 38 group stage games at the AFCON (W23 D14), and are unbeaten in their last 17 (W9 D8) since Equatorial Guinea lost 1-0 to Zambia as joint-hosts in 2012.
- Nigeria have lost just one of their last 12 AFCON group stage games (W8 D3), with their 2-0 defeat to Madagascar in 2019 the only time they’ve failed to score in this run.
- This will be Ivory Coast and Nigeria’s seventh meeting at the Africa Cup of Nations. As things stand, they can’t be separated. Of their six games so far, they have won two each and drawn two, scoring five goals each.
- Their last AFCON meeting was in 2013. Nigeria won 2-1 in the quarter-finals and went on to lift the trophy.
- The three previous meetings between Ivory Coast and Nigeria in the group stage of the tournament have produced only two goals (0-0 in 1980, 1-0 to Nigeria in 1990, 1-0 to Ivory Coast in 2008).
Nigerians hope for a Super Eagles win against Ivory Coast to ease the pressure, especially after not getting maximum points on Matchday 1.
However, achieving this win requires significant effort from both the coaches and players.
In this article, I consulted with a few Nigerian football experts who shared their insights on what can be done to secure a victory for the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Dr Mumini Alao
The first goal will be decisive; the Eagles must score it. To do that, they must be adventurous and clinical against the Ivorians.
They must start the match on the front foot, take the fight to the opposition instead of adopting their usual slow starts. And when the goal scoring chances come, they must take them!
Nigeria scoring first will create panic in the home team and anxiety amongst their supporters which the Eagles can capitalize on to score again. If the Ivorians score first, they will settle down to dictate proceedings and a comeback will be difficult for Nigeria.
For personnel, it is really positive news to have Kelechi Iheanacho fit and ready to go for the game. His creativity, ingenuity and X-factor especially in big games is something that gives Nigeria a strong chance. Then we also need the fullback duo of Bruno Onyemaechi and Bright Osayi Samuel starting ahead of Zaidu Sanusi and Ola Aina. Their defensive solidity will be important in curtailing the threat the Ivorians possess especially on the flanks.
Secondly, we need to convert our chances because we will create. This could be a game decided by fine margins. Oftentimes, clashes between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire have been decided in that regard, especially at the AFCON. Ivory Coast, for all their dominance against Bissau, showed vulnerability in defending transitions, and this is where Nigeria can really hurt them because we have better quality, quicker players, and we have the best footballer on the continent.
One of the things I noticed during the first game of the tournament between Ivory Coast and Guinea Bissau is that the Ivorian fullbacks seem to regularly deploy the use of cutbacks a lot and when they do that, there’s a midfielder waiting on the edge of the box to hit it goalwards. Alhassan Yusuf’s absence will be keenly felt but José Peseiro needs to find an alternative that can help to read those passes and intercept them at will. Also that’s where the fullbacks earlier mentioned come in as well because Zaidu Sanusi and Ola Aina in my opinion are only better at going forward not defending and with Ivory Coast really utilizing their pace on the flanks and the lanky Haller in the box, we definitely need solidity in those areas.
Ivory Coast also loves an early start, and they will want to give the crowd that. We have to be wary of conceding an early goal. The crowd thing isn’t really going to matter much because going by the numbers, the attendance in the opening game which is said to be the game where the most tickets were purchased saw a paltry 31k+ fans in a stadium that seats 60k. Ivory Coast vs Nigeria, is the game with the second most ticket purchases, which means a crowd less than the one that attended the first game will be there. Regardless, the host nation will be motivated, and there’s no better way to lay down a marker than to beat Nigeria and secure their place in the last 16 with a game to spare.
It’s a good thing we have a goalkeeper who’s not afraid to come and claim crosses and do it well now, he wasn’t faced with much during the first game but he will be tested much on Thursday. He’ll be ready, though.
Bottomline remains. We have to take our chances and defend solidly as a unit.
We have some options on the bench that can come in handy. Paul Onuachu is one. His height advantage could be vital if Victor Osimhen gets on the end of some harsh and tough tackling when we have set pieces.
We need to be proactive, not reactive (not wait till we concede before we begin to push). We can beat the hosts, but it will be a collective responsibility with a lot of energy, solidity, and compactness.
Talking about the things we can do to win against Cote d’Ivoire, I would start to look at it from the angle of the things we failed to do, that cost us 3 maximum points against Equatorial Guinea.
One of those many things was our failure to convert chances. It was a very unusual off-day for Victor Osimhen in the colours of the Super Eagles, but of course, players have off days, he’s shown up several times for the Eagles in the past, we can only hope he compensates for it through the rest of the tournament. I would just suggest he should find a balance between passion or perhaps the pressure to deliver for his country and the calmness required of a seasoned striker like him to put the chances that would come his way at the back of the net.
If we must beat Cote d’Ivoire, one important aspect of our game we also need to work on is passage of play. Poor passage of play and lack of coordination has been a recurrent topic for the Super Eagles for some time now under coach Jose Peseiro, it was in full glare again against Equatorial Guinea. I am uncertain if 3 days is enough to fix what has been a bottleneck now for months and years, but we just must find a way to be better coordinated and find spaces within the Ivorian midfield, else, we would be punished.
Our defence also has to be better. We were caught flat-footed on several occasions the first game, despite very little pressure from the Equatorial Guinean attack, chief culprit being Semi Ajayi, if this becomes a recurrent theme, the Elephants, who are of course a better opposition would take advantage of it.
Finally, the unavailability of the workaholic Alhassan Yusuf, means if coach Peseiro maintains the same formation we saw in the first game, we would have frailties in midfield.
Joe Aribo, aside having been underwhelming for Nigeria for sometime now, does not possess the defensive attribute to match up the strength, energy and runs of an Ivorian midfield that would likely parade Frank Kessie, Seko Fofana and Ibrahima Sangare. Neither can Frank Onyeka, who isn’t particularly the most efficient on the ball neutralise the effect of this trio, being the lone anchorman at the base of our midfield.
Approaching the game without a tweak in set up to counter the steel the Ivorian possesses in midfield, could prove fatal. I would suggest a 3-man defence system, which could be a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2. This would ensure we not only utilize our fullbacks (which is where we most blessed in the available squad at the moment) to the optimal, but also ensure that we create a midfield overload in possession, that could metamorphose into a 4-man defence without the ball or while under pressure from the Ivorian attack.
Firstly, try not to be adventurous because it’s Cote d’Ivoire, not Equatorial Guinea.
Secondly, keep it tight at the back, of course, that’s not being adventurous. We want to control the game, not rush into careless attacks.
Thirdly, I’m sure by now we would have had some shooting practice. I don’t think we even need shooting practice because these players are not amateur players. They’ve been playing for their top clubs in Europe. So you’re not going to teach them much about shooting, but maybe we need some calmness.
The truth for me is we don’t have to beat Ivory Coast. At the same time, we can not afford to lose. Then we can go for the kill against Guinea Bissau. But why not just beat Ivory Coast and take the pressure off yourself?
But the key thing is that if you’re not going to score a goal, please don’t concede.
Again, don’t be adventurous, keep it tight at the back, stick to the formation, and if you’re going to bring in a new player into the team, maybe a Terem Moffi or Kelechi Iheanacho.
I think the boys can keep their heads. We’ll get the result against Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast vs Nigeria is upon us. Let’s have a cracker, Abidjan!!!