BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
As the clock counts down to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations draw ceremony in Abidjan on Thursday, Nigeria’s Super Eagles are destined to face either the host country, Cote d’Ivoire or any of the top four African countries.
The probability of drawing a North African team is very high, considering their preponderance in the Pot 1 which harbours the top seeds.
Nigeria will therefore face any of the following – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. The other options are two West Africans -hosts Cote d’Ivoire or Senegal.
In the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations – 2019 and 2021, the Super Eagles have had confrontations with three of the top four from North Africa – Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia.
It is only Morocco that the Super Eagles have not faced in recent time. Nigeria’s last major confrontation with Morocco at top flight level dates back to 27 January 2004 during the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia. Morocco won the Group D opener by 1-0.
The Team B of both countries however met at the final match of the African Nations Championships (CHAN) in 2018. Morocco won 4-0 at home.
Another North African side in Pot 1, Egypt lost to Nigeria in the opening Group D match last year in Garoua, Cameroon.
But unexpectedly, a highly depleted Tunisian side eliminated Nigeria in the Round of 16, just as Algeria did at the semi-finals of the 2019 edition.
Tunisia have been one of the most familiar North African opponents Nigeria drew at the Africa Cup of Nations in recent time. Since the controversial third place match at Ghana 1978, both teams have met five times.
Egypt is another familiar opponents. They have faced Nigeria nine times in the framework of the Africa Cup of Nations. Nigeria won 1-0, the last time out at last year’s edition in Cameroon.
Before then, Egypt beat Nigeria 3-1 in the opening group game at Angola 2010 and 6-3 in Ghana 1963. Otherwise, three of the remaining matches had been in Nigeria’s favour while other three were drawn.
Hosts, Cote d’Ivoire and fellow West Africans provide the possible surprise elements. There have been very few Africa Cup of Nations finals clashes.
Nigeria have met Cote d’Ivoire five times at the finals, winning twice, 2-1 in 2013 and 1-0 in 1990. The Ivoirians also won twice:1-0 in both 2006 and 2008 and drew goalless in Lagos in 1980.
Nigeria met Senegal twice in the Egypt 2006 edition winning both at the group stage and the third-place match. They met on identical date – 7 February in 2000 and 2002. Nigeria won 2-1 in Lagos in 2000 while Senegal won by the same scoreline at Mali 2002.
Three other Nigerian opponents will come from Pots 3 and 4. In Pot 3 are Cape Verde, who keep on improving; 2012 champions Zambia, the 2012 champions; South Africa, the 1996 champions as well as Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritania.
The Super Eagles have Guinea, Zambia and South Africa in the Africa Cup of Nations and had good results. But they had never faced Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritania in the competition. Equatorial Guinea and Cape Verde were Nigeria’s qualifying opponents in 2010 and 2022 World Cup respectively.
One of those six teams will face Nigeria at the 2023 AFCON.
Pot 4 contains the lowest-ranked teams in the competition. Angola, hosts in 2010, are together with Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Namibia, The Gambia and Tanzania.