Nigeria’s playing body has long concluded a diagnosis of Sunday’s 1-1 draw with neighbours Equatorial Guinea and looking very much forward to what they believe will be an ‘interesting encounter’ with host nation Cote d’Ivoire at the 34th Africa Cup of Nations on Thursday.
The table-topping Elephants, two-time champions of the continental competition, will look to book an early Round of 16 ticket by defeating Nigeria at the newly-built Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Ebimpe, while three-time champions and podium appearance-leaders Nigeria, joint-second on the group A log, are determined to wrestle all the points and enhance their prospects of a slot in the knockout rounds.
Defender William Ekong, who led out the squad on Sunday, has appealed to Nigerians from all walks of life to keep supporting the team as they seek for all three points against the hosts on their own turf on Thursday evening.
“We went all out to pick the three points against Equatorial Guinea, but it didn’t happen. We live to fight another day. From our side, we are appealing to Nigerians from all over the world to keep supporting and believing in the team. Our objective is to first reach the knockout rounds and then we push strongly from there.”
Nigeria created opportunity after opportunity against the Thunder, but poor finishing ensured a 1-1 draw and share of the spoils on Sunday afternoon.
Coach José Peseiro has been provided with options in the fore with the arrivals of Kelechi Iheanacho and Terem Moffi, and the camp believes strongly that the team that scored 22 goals in qualifying (more than any other team in the series) could start firing better on Sunday.
“We expect a tough game because the Ivorians are the hosts and they are also top of our group. But we have our aspirations as well and we believe in ourselves,” defender Kenneth Omeruo said on Monday.
Half of the squad spent Monday morning in the gym before the evening training session, which was open to the media.
The stature of Thursday’s encounter has been enhanced by current realities around the two teams, but it was always going to be a game to behold since the draw was made, as matches between both countries at senior level have been furious and feisty on the terrain, and even outside it.
Both countries first clashed at the Africa Cup of Nations when Nigeria hosted in 1980. The encounter at the National Stadium, Surulere ended scoreless, and it was Nigeria’s second game (as it will be on Thursday) of the tournament. The Eagles had to defeat Egypt in their third match to qualify for the semi finals (in which they pipped Morocco 1-0) to make progress, and eventually win the trophy for the first time.
Ten years later, both countries again clashed in the group phase, with Rashidi Yekini (of blessed memory) scoring the match’s only goal after just three minutes in Annaba. The Eagles eventually made it to the Final, losing 0-1 to the host nation, Algeria.
In 1994, both teams clashed in the semi-finals at the Stade El Menzah in Tunis.
It ended in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw, with petite Michel Bassole scoring for the Ivorians and Yekini and Benedict Iroha netting for Nigeria.
Yekini scored the winning penalty for the Eagles, and Nigeria notched her second crown by defeating Zambia 2-1 in the Final
In 2006, both teams met in the semi-finals in Alexandria, with the Ivorians running away 1-0 winners. Two years later, the Ivorians were again 1-0 winners after Salomon Kalou scored the only goal in a group phase encounter in the Ghanaian city of Sekondi.
In 2013, on their way to a third triumph, the Eagles edged the Elephants 2-1 in a quarter-final like no other at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg. Emmanuel Emenike and Sunday Mba scored for Nigeria.
In-between, there have been FIFA World Cup qualifying fixtures, the most memorable of which remain the two matches between both teams in the race to USA 1994.
In Abidjan on 2nd May, 1993, Yekini scored after only five minutes, but Abdoulaye Traore and Ibrahim Ouattara got the goals that gave the Elephants victory at the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny. In Lagos four months later, goals by Yekini (a brace), Daniel Amokachi and Thompson Oliha handed Nigeria a 4-1 win. The Eagles went ahead to qualify for their first-ever FIFA World Cup finals.