Preview: Egypt meet Nigeria in clash of top Group D contenders at AFCON

Ahram Online , Monday 10 Jan 2022

An early intriguing match pits Group D favourites Egypt and Nigeria against each other in their opening game of the African Cup of Nations in the Cameroonian city of Garoua on Tuesday.

Egypt s Mohamed Salah and Nigeria s Victor Moses in action. REUTERS

Whoever come out on top will be a frontrunner to advance to the last 16 as the group leaders, with easier tests against minnows Guinea-Bissau and Sudan to follow.

Egypt avoided the kind of COVID-19 outbreaks that hit several other top guns, with understudy goalkeeper Mohamed Abo Gabal being the only absentee after contracting the highly-contagious virus.

The Pharaohs will also be missing in-form midfielder Amr El Sulaya who hasn't fully recovered from a calf injury.

Nigeria, however, are missing several key players. Napoli striker Victor Osimhen is still nursing a facial injury and he had also tested positive for COVID-19, while Emmanuel Dennis and Odion Ighalo were also ruled out of the tournament.

English Premier League side Watford and Saudi Arabia's Al-Shabab refused to release Dennis and Ighalo respectively, claiming that Nigeria had missed a deadline to call them up.

That leaves Nigeria's interim coach Augustine Eguavoen, who took over following the sacking of German Gernot Rohr, without much-needed firepower against Egypt.

"First game is very crucial to any team, it will give you a lot of encouragement, going into the tournament proper. I will say a little bit but I'm more relaxed now than two weeks or a week ago," Eguavoen was quoted as saying by Nigerian media.

Egypt are also aware of the importance of grabbing an opening win as they aim to atone for an embarrassing campaign on home soil in 2019, which saw them bow out at the last 16 after losing to South Africa.

"Our path is not easy but we will fight to return home with the trophy. Stand by us," Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, who shoulders Egypt's hopes of winning their first Nations Cup title since 2010, said in a Twitter message to fans.

“We are not favourite candidates to win the title of the Africa Cup, but we will do our best to return home with the trophy,” Salah said in the pre-Nigeria press conference on Monday.

“I am one of 11 players and we will do our best to win the Nigeria game and the tournament title,” the 29-year-old added.

Egypt defeated Nigeria in their last competitive game 1-0 in a Nations Cup qualifier in March 2016. They also met in a friendly in March 2019, which Nigeria won 1-0.

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