Nigeria and hosts Côte D’Ivoire will climax an unforgettable month this Sunday in a remake of their second group stage game of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) of two weeks ago.
When both sides met in the group stage, Nigeria ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a Troost-Ekong penalty. The Ivory Coast dominated possession and had more shots on goal but Nigeria’s resilience at paid off.
The Ivorian side that Nigeria faces come Sunday is a much changed one to the previous. It’s a team that has broken free of its shell. If before the home crowd made the Elephants nervous, now it plays the role of the 12th man. We saw Senegal, Mali and DR Congo melt in the heat.
We may talk of Nigeria’s compact defense, but mind you this Ivorian side has given very little away in the knockout phase, conceding only two big chances in three games. That’s less than the four Nigeria has conceded in three knockout phase games.
The Ivorian team gets better each passing game and they seem to be more clinical than before.
Their semi-final game against DR Congo became their first in which they took the lead and the first in which they kept a clean sheet since after the 2-0 win against Guinea Bissau in the opening day of play.
The Super Eagles could be shooting themselves in the leg if they sit back. No matter how tight their defense is, the noise in the Ebimpe Stadium could just be enough to get the hosts over the line. As we saw against South Africa, Nigeria can concede chances.
It also looks like the sort of game Victor Osimhen will have to do more than just being a hardworking team player and actually take up more responsibility.
All the same, it will be a very tough fixture for both sides and it will make a great watch.
How do you see this playing out?
By Ade Divine as a Guest Writer for kick442.com