The Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Pharaohs of Egypt are set to renew their football rivalry when both teams go head-on in the next round of games in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying series.
The three-time African champions have a tough test ahead of them as they take on the Pharaohs of Egypt; first on Friday in the Crocodile City of Kaduna and then later on in Alexandria, Egypt.
While the Eagles are ruing their last miss at the AFCON, it is even worse for the Egyptians who have shockingly missed out in participating in the last three editions of Africa’s biggest.
It is this scenario that sets up an expected thrilling encounter both this Friday and next Tuesday.
At the moment, Seven-time African champions Egypt are top of Group G with six points from two matches, Nigeria are two points behind on four points with only the overall group winners guaranteed automatic passage to Gabon 2017.
The standings will be much clearer after Nigeria and Egypt play again in Alexandria on Tuesday.
Nigeria’s build-up for these crucial games have been somewhat chaotic after coach Sunday Oliseh quit his post a month ago, citing lack of support from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and several violations of his contract.
Olympic team coach Samson Siasia was appointed as caretaker coach to be assisted by Salisu Yusuf and the country’s U20 coach Emmanuel Amuneke and at the moment, the ship looks steadied and ready for the voyage to Gabon
While upfront, the Eagles are looking all good with the roster of strikers in camp, the defence seems a little bit shaky following injury blows to the experienced duo of Kenneth Omeruo and Leon Balogun as well as a major clear-out of the players who feature in the domestic league.
Siasia is now most likely to line up most of the players he has previously worked with like Chelsea star Mikel Obi as well as players from the Olympic team like Oghenekaro Etebo, Stanley Amuzie and Azubuike Okechukwu.
Confident sound bites
He has admitted his biggest concern would be how the players from overseas cope with the heat in the northern city of Kaduna, where this match will be played.
“I don’t know why Nigerians are so afraid of Egypt. They should be worried about us,” Siasia wondered at a recent briefing.
“The players are very positive and for me, it is really how can we play well in the heat?”
Nigeria players remain bullish about their chances of victory.
“We will give all we have on Friday, we will give it a big push,” vowed Odion Ighalo, who has snapped out of a month-long goals drought with his English Premier League side Watford just in time for these matches.
Erstwhile, Nigeria skipper Ahmed Musa admitted it will be a difficult game, which they have to win.
“It’s a very important match, which we have to win, but we also know it won’t be easy,” said the CSKA Moscow forward.
Egypt are equally under pressure to qualify for Gabon after their last appearance in Angola 2010.
Argentine coach Hector Cuper, whose job is on the line, has named as many as nine players from league and cup winners Zamalek with bitter rivals Ahly also providing a good number of the players for these matches.
The Pharaohs will play as a team while also relying on the individual brilliance of their overseas-based pros led by AS Roma forward Mohamed Salah and Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny.
Egypt striker Ahmed Hassan ‘Koka’ said he expects Egypt to play as a unit.
“The team don’t rely on foreign-based players as Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Elneny, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Amr Warda and myself; the team consist of 11 players,” Koka told Sada El-Balad Channel.
“Players who play for the national team make every effort to fully represent their country.”
‘Koka’ has scored 13 goals this season for Portuguese club Sporting Braga since his transfer from Rio Ave.
Nigeria and Egypt have met 16 times with Nigeria winning seven times, Egypt with five victories, while there have been four draws between them.
Their first meeting was a friendly on January 1, 1960, which Nigeria won 2-1.
The Egyptians have won their last two meetings – 3-1 on January 12, 2010, in an AFCON 2010 clash, and 3-2 in a friendly on April 12, 2012.
Time: Kick-off time has now been moved to 5pm local time on Friday.
The game would be close to call. But Nigeria have a good fan base at home and have a higher percentage win at home. A win for the Nigeria is very likely; albeit a slim one
Nigeria 2-1 Egypt