Nigeria and Cameroon renew their Africa Cup of Nations hostilities in the round of 16 at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium on Saturday January 27, 2024.
The Super Eagles finished second behind Equatorial Guinea in Group A, while Rigobert Song’s men relied on a late comeback against The Gambia to progress behind a perfect Senegal in Group C.
Nigeria were not convincing in their final game of Group A against winless Guinea-Bissau, but Jose Peseiro’s men secured maximum points to finish with seven points and qualify second in the group.
The Super Eagles have struggled for goals at AFCON 2023, netting three times despite heading into the knockout stage as the competition’s top creators, fashioning more clear-cut chances, 13, than the other 23 sides.
Victor Osimhen’s finishing has been below expectations in games against Equatorial Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau, and the African Footballer of the Year’s expected goals underperformance is the worst at the continental showpiece.
Nigeria need their talisman back on form as the competition enters the crucial stage, as relying on their defensive performance may prove fatal if chances cannot be converted at the other end.
This is not lost on Peseiro, who warned his side to improve their execution in the knockout rounds to avoid early elimination, and it remains to be seen if anything changes against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on Saturday.
Both sides have a long-standing rivalry at the Cup of Nations, with Cameroon’s 2000 success in the decider in Lagos at the turn of the millennium still hurtful to many Super Eagles supporters.
The 2017 champions have lost their stranglehold in this conflict, with the Indomitable Lions winless in the last three competitive meetings between the nations, including a 3-2 loss at the 2019 tournament in Egypt.
It remains to be seen if Song’s side turns the tide this weekend, but the Lions must improve on group-stage performances to outdo a Super Eagles side that have given little away defensively.
Cameroon’s reliance on crossing was evident throughout their games with Guinea, Senegal and The Gambia, with their first game against a short-handed Syli National underscoring that approach.
Whether that works against a side displaying greater coherence is questionable, but Song’s side are unlikely to change tack against their age-old rivals in the round of 16.
Peseiro sticking with a back three against eliminated Guinea-Bissau suggests the Nigeria boss could continue with that formation for the rest of the competition.
Alhassan Yussuf and William Troost-Ekong should return to the squad, although the midfield man’s involvement is uncertain unless the Super Eagles revert to a back four or alter the 3-4-2-1 for a 3-5-2.
Ademola Lookman was a substitute in Nigeria’s final group fixture, but the Atalanta BC forward should be restored to the starting XI, while Zaidu Sanusi is anticipated to start against the Lions of Cameroon.
Song dropped Andre Onana for the five-time African champions’ final group game with Gambia, and the Manchester United goalkeeper’s place is uncertain before Saturday’s game.
With reports pointing to the return of Vincent Aboubakar from injury, Cameroon could be tempted to play the centre-forward from the start against the three-time AFCON winners.
No player at this year’s finals has created more chances than Georges-Kevin N’Koudou’s, and the attacker should play a pivotal part for the Indomitable Lions against Nigeria.
Nigeria possible starting XI
Nwabali; Aina, Bassey, Ekong, Ajayi, Bassey; Iwobi, Onyeka; Chukwueze, Osimhen, Lookman
Cameroon possible starting XI
Ondoa; Castelletto, Wooh, Tolo; Tchato, Ntcham, Anguissa, Yongwa; Ekambi, Aboubakar, N’Koudou
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