Another mouth-watering group opener comes up on Tuesday when two African powerhouses in Nigeria and Egypt lock horns at the Estadio Roumde Adjia in Group D of the Africa Cup of Nations.
The rivalry between the two sides dates as far back as 1960, when Nigeria secured a 2-1 friendly victory in their first encounter, and while the Super Eagles will be seeking their fourth title, the Pharaohs will look to conquer the continent for a record-extending eighth time.
Nigeria head into Cameroon as one of the most successful nations on the continent, and with three Africa Cup of Nations titles to back up their claim, they are one to keep an eye out for and undoubtedly favourites to go all the way.
However, following their last triumph back in 2013, when they edged out a dogged Burkina Faso side 1-0 courtesy of Sunday Mba’s winner, the Super Eagles endured a horrid run in the continental tournament, failing to qualify for the subsequent two editions.
In 2014, the West African nation secured third place in Group A of the qualifiers, two points behind Congo in the final qualifying spot, before finishing as runners-up in Group G back in 2017, five points adrift of group winners Egypt.
Nigeria then made up for their two-year absence in 2019, when they secured Bronze, courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in the losers final after suffering a gruesome 2-1 defeat at the hands of eventual winners Algeria in the semi-finals
The three-time champions, who will be making their 19th AFCON appearance this month, enjoyed an unbeaten qualifying journey where they finished at the summit of Group L to secure smooth entry into the group stages of the tournament.
Led by former manager and German tactician Gernot Rohr, the 2013 champions won four and drew two of their six qualification games to collect 14 points and finish seven points above runners-up Sierra Leone, who are making their first appearance since 1996.
Nigeria head into Tuesday’s game unbeaten in all but one of their last six competitive games, picking up four wins and one draw to book a spot in the playoffs of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers after finishing first in Group C, two points ahead of second-placed Cape Verde.
While they will be seeking an opening-day victory over fellow group favourites Egypt which will undoubtedly set the tone for their subsequent games, they are without a win in any of the last six competitive meetings between the sides, dating back to a 1-0 victory in 2019.
Egypt, on the other hand, are currently the most decorated nation in Africa, conquering the continent on seven different occasions, with their last title win coming back in 2010, when they saw off Ghana 1-0 courtesy of Mohamed Nagy’s 85th-minute strike.
Similar to Nigeria, the Pharaohs failed to make an appearance in each of the three subsequent editions, falling short in the qualifying round on each occasion, before suffering a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Cameroon in the 2017 final.
In that encounter, after Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny scored midway through the first half to put Egypt ahead, the Indomitable Lions rallied after the interval and upped the ante to turn the tie on its head through goals from Nicolas N’Koulou and Vincent Aboubakar to clinch their fifth crown.
Egypt, who hosted the most recent edition of the tournament back in 2019, were sent packing in the round of 16 after losing 1-0 to South Africa and will head into Cameroon fresh off the back of a fourth-placed finish at the just-concluded Arab Cup.
Carlos Queiroz’s men, who are making a record-extending 23rd AFCON appearance, have secured their place in the next round of the World Cup qualifiers after enjoying a sensational run in Group F, where they picked up four wins and two draws from six games.
In a surprise turn of events, Rohr saw his five-year stint in charge of Nigeria come to an end after he was relieved of his managerial duties by the Nigeria Football Federation a few weeks to the commencement of the tournament, with former defender Augustine Eguavoen taking over the reins.
The 56-year-old has named a star-studded 28-man squad, including the Leicester City duo of Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi, Everton’s Alex Iwobi and Fatih Karagumruk forward Ahmed Musa, who holds the nation’s all-time appearance record.
In defence, we could see Porto full-back Zaidu Sanusi and 25-year-old Olaoluwa Aina, who turns out for Torino, play on either side of a centre-back pairing of William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo.
Notable absentees in the Super Eagles include Victor Osimhen, who was the nation’s top scorer in the qualifiers with five goals, after the Napoli talisman reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
Nigeria will also have to make do without the services of strike partners Emmanuel Dennis and Odion Ighalo, who were held back by Watford and Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab FC respectively, with Peter Olayinka coming in as replacement.
As for Egypt, fresh reports have emerged of multiple COVID-19 cases with the trio of Mohamed Abogabal, Ibrahim Adel and coaching staff Essam El-Hadary testing positive for the virus.
Twenty-four-year-old Marwan Daoud has earned a late call-up to the Pharaohs’ squad, replacing Pyramids defender Mohamed Hamdi, who sustained an injury on Friday.
In attack, Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, who is the current Premier League top scorer with 16 goals in 20 games so far, will be one to watch out for as he looks to make his mark on the biggest stage in African football.
Head to Head: In competitive games, the two sides have met on five occasions. Egypt have won three. Nigeria picked up one win and drew one.
Nigeria possible starting lineup: Okoye, Sanusi, Troost-Ekong, Omeruo, Aina, Ndidi, Aribo, Ejuke, Simon, Musa, Iheanacho
Egypt possible starting lineup:
El-Shennawy; Daoud, Hegazi, Fatouh, Ashraf; Fathi, El-Sulya, Elneny; Mohamed, Sherif, Salah
We say: Nigeria 2-1 Egypt
Egypt and Nigeria are two of the most experienced and decorated sides in the tournament and this makes for an exciting and nerve-racking watch. While we cannot ignore Salah’s presence, Nigeria head into the game with a more complete and well-rounded squad who should be able to get the job done. We are tipping the Super Eagles to get their campaign off to a flyer by claiming all three points, albeit by the odd goal.