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AFCON PREVIEW: Can Super Eagles surmount injury woes to defeat Equatorial Guinea?

The Super Eagles begin their 2024 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) campaign with a tricky match against Equatorial Guinea at the Stade Olympique Alassane in Abidjan on Sunday.

Dealt a crushing blow during the last AFCON in Cameroon, Nigeria crashed out in the second round against Tunisia and they are now looking to make amends.

Advancing to the knockout rounds is their minimum target in Ivory Coast, though reaching the final on February 11 and adding to their three previous titles is what Nigerians expect.

Journeyman boss Jose Peseiro will be making his coaching debut at the AFCON; he has selected a talented group that looks capable of challenging the likes of defending champions Senegal, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Mali, Cameroon and hosts Cote d’Ivoire.

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But a good group of players does not necessarily translate into a great squad — and recent performances by the team leave much to be desired. Nigeria failed to impress during their pre-tournament friendly against Guinea as they lost 2-0 in Dubai on Monday.

Despite this, anything other than a victory for the Super Eagles will be deemed a failure, given that they are playing the opening fixture against a side that is 44 places below them on the FIFA ranking.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA’S CHANCES

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Equatorial Guinea are competing in a major tournament for the fourth time ever after finishing above Tunisia in the qualifying round, with 13 points from their six group matches.

The Nzalang Nationale are tough customers for teams on the continent, and they exemplified this throughout the qualifying campaign, hence they cannot be written off.

Ranked 88th in the world, though, they have a massive task on their hands if they are to make it any further than the group phase.

Equatorial Guinea, who were fourth at the 2015 edition of the African Mundial, head into their opening fixture on the back of a draw with Djibouti in the last official match they played.

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Juan Obiang Micha’s men have a nine-match unbeaten streak going into the opening game against Nigeria.

TEAM NEWS

Omonia Nicosia custodian Francis Uzoho appears to have won the battle to start in goal for Nigeria after earning the trust of Jose Peseiro.

Wilfred Ndidi and Victor Boniface were ruled out of the competition due to injuries. They were replaced by Yusuf Alhassan and Terem Moffi respectively.

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Alex Iwobi is expected to play just off Victor Osimhen and Sadiq Umar, giving the Super Eagles one of the strongest attacking lineups in the competition. The team also has the likes of Ademola Lookman, Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze and Terem Moffi to call on.

Reigning African footballer of the year Osimhen scored 10 goals during the qualifying campaign and was the top scorer overall.

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As for Equatorial Guinea, Federico Bikoro and Emilio Nsue are their biggest goal threats after scoring four of their side’s nine goals during qualifying.

Nsue is arguably the most well-known player in the Nzalang Nationale squad. The former Mallorca and Real Sociedad star has the opportunity to make himself a hero for Equatorial Guinea in what is his third major international tournament.

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POSSIBLE LINE-UP

Nigeria: Uzoho, Aina, Bassey, Ajayi, Zaidu, Onyeka, Iwobi, Chukwueze, Lookman, Umar, Osimhen

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Equatorial Guinea: Owono, Nsue, Akakpo, Orozco, Ndong, Coco, Balbao, Machin, Bikoro, Obama, Miranda

Head To Head

Both sides will be facing off for the third time in Sunday’s clash at the Stade Olympique Alasanne. The Super Eagles won the two previous meetings.

Prediction: Nigeria 3-2 Equatorial Guinea

Nigeria suffered a defeat in their last warm-up game against Guinea while Equatorial Guinea could only muster a 1-1 draw against  Djibouti on Tuesday.

Three-time champions Nigeria are strong favourites here and should get the job done in Abidjan with Osimhen and Lookman coming to the party.

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