This is the match that the world is waiting for in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023.
The Elephants take on the Super Eagles on Thursday, 18 January in their second Group A matches.
Nigeria were held to a 1-1 draw by Equatorial Guinea in their opening clash, while Cote d’Ivoire triumphed to a 2-0 victory of Guinea-Bissau.
CAFOnline had an exclusive sit down with African football icon, Jay-Jay Okocha to get his thoughts ahead of the clash.
Nigeria plays its second AFCON match on Thursday against hosts, Cote d’Ivoire. Should we expect a difficult match for the Super Eagles?
Absolutely! Every match is difficult but when you play the host country, it is even more difficult. But, of course the beauty of football is that if you want to be champions, you have to win against the best. And as we know, in football, every match is difficult. If you are well prepared, you have a chance of winning your match. But, we Nigerians, we know that it will be a difficult match but also, we believe that we have enough potential to be able to win this match.
What do you think will be the key to winning this meeting?
I think what the key will be is experience, desire and state of mind. For me, they are professionals, and they know the importance of this match, I think their mindset will be the key.
Nigeria surrendered a lead to draw against Equatorial Guinea. What did you make of this match?
I think we didn’t really play bad like many people say. There were a lot of positive things that were seen in the match. The only problem is that we didn’t take our opportunities. We created a lot of chances, which is a positive aspect for me. That’s the sign of a good team. It looks like two points lost because we were favorites, but we know how difficult it is to win a match. This is also a good thing because they now know that they are not perfect and that they need to improve certain things.
Nigeria expects a lot from its striker and star, Victor Osimhen. As a legend of the Nigerian selection who carried this team for a good period, what would it take for him to meet the expectations placed on him?
We know that Victor Osimhen is a world-class goalscorer, a very great player. He needs the services of his team and I believe he got them in this first match. It’s not all the time that we see him miss clear opportunities. I think he is eager to correct his mistakes and with him, we have hope and we believe in him because we know he is capable of shining in any competition.
Nigeria’s last meeting with Cote d’Ivoire was a loss back in 2015. Does this play a factor?
It’s not just Cote d’Ivoire. Every match today is difficult. The gap has narrowed, and I think we don’t have to rely much on history. What interests us is the current Côte d’Ivoire that we will play on Thursday. If you look at our two teams, you will see that the difference is not big. It will be a good match.
You are a legend of African football and the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations. We still remember your fabulous goal in the final of the 2000 edition against Cameroon at home and you won the competition in 1994. What does the tournament represent for an African footballer?
It’s really very important for an African footballer because nothing is more beautiful than knowing that you are an African champion, that you are the best team in Africa. So, for us, it is priceless, as Africans, to win or participate in the AFCON.
Who do you think is the favorite in this competition?
My favorite, of course, is Nigeria, naturally (laughing). Come on, we’ll wait and see.
What do you think of the title holders Senegal, or Morocco, semi-finalist of the last World Cup?
Without a doubt, we have a lot of teams that we can say have what it takes to win. As you said, Senegal – I was at their game yesterday, they gave a good performance. Morocco, of course, we know they were impressive at the World Cup and we expect them to do well. But at the same time, when you look at teams like Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, you can’t neglect them, they showed how difficult the AFCON has become. You can no longer consider a team as underdogs. Of course, there is also the organizing country, Cote d’Ivoire.
With a mass of supporters behind them, they will be a difficult team to play against in this tournament. So, it would be very early to name the favorite.
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