3 February 2013

Nigeria: Afcon Quarter Final - Eagles Confront Elephants

Rustenburg — As the build-up to today's star match of the AFCON quarter finals between Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire in Rustenburg reaches fever pitch, the fact that Nigeria is far from the team that defeated the Elephants in the semi-final of the 1994 edition in Tunisia on the way to winning the competition is glaring. The Eagles are rated 10th in Africa and didn't even qualify for the last edition.

Cote d'Ivoire on the other hand are the number one ranked team in Africa and have been favourites in the last four editions without any success. This edition is deemed as the last chance for many of the golden generation led by Didier Drogba.

Thus the Eagles go into the game firmly in the role of underdogs despite being undefeated, and the manner of qualification from Group C showed why they are considered so with progression only confirmed minutes to the end of their last group game against Ethiopia after two draws.

On the other hand, the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire are the overwhelming favourites and showed how strong they are by making nine changes in their last group match against Algeria in their last group match and still performed creditably.

The all-time head to head record is in Cote d'Ivoire's favour with five wins against four for Nigeria and in AFCON history, they have played five times with two wins each but the Ivorians have had the better in the recent past with two 1-0 victories in 2006 and 2008.

The last time both teams met at the Nations Cup in 2008, Salomon Kalou scored the only goal of that encounter.However a certain type of history might be in Nigeria's favour.

Vincent Enyeama, one of the longest serving Super Eagles players has history in his favour as he has never lost an AFCON quarter final match since he became the nation's numero uno in the senior national team. And Nigerians are not expecting anything different despite taking on the Ivoriens who are favourites.

Against Cameroun in the 2004 edition, Enyeama was the hero of a tense evening. After the Indomitable Lions took the advantage with a Samuel Eto'o goal, Austin Okocha and John Utaka redeemed the situation for the Eagles to keep Eayeama's third round record intact.

Two years later, Enyeama again returned as hero when Eagles eliminated Cup holders Tunisia on penalty shoot-out on another memorable evening in Port Said.

The former Enyimba of Aba safe hands then became the favourites of Nigerian ball fans.

In Angola in 2010, Enyeama stood firm against the Zambians in Lubango and kept his nerve to score the kick that took Nigeria to the last four.

Meanwhile, Vallerenge of Norway stopper Fegor Ogude who is expected to provide the vital shield for Enyeama is unavailable this afternoon due to the second yellow card of the group stage he got in the must-win match against the Ethiopians.

Will the pair of Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo be able to match-up the potent strike force of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Gervinho? That question will be answered this afternoon.

The burden of achieving an upset will rest on the shoulders of Chelsea star, John Mikel Obi from midfield and in attack, Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses who have both scored two goals each in the competition.

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