Rustenburg, South Africa - A confrontation of epic proportion is expected as Africa’s highest ranked football team, Cote d’Ivoire, face two-time African champions, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, in a quarter-final duel of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa.
The atmosphere at the Nigerian camp has been frenzy. The feelings have been centred at lifting the nation out of the present football depression. They are aware of the feelings back home.
Not many people believe they can scale the Ivorian hurdle. They are aware many have lost faith in Nigerian football as most Nigerian football exports are no longer plying their trade in the big European clubs.
This is in contrast to the Ivorian side that is not only rated as the most complete side at this tournament, but the one with the largest number of stars.
In contrast to Nigeria with just two English Premiership players in its fold, Cote d’Ivoire boasts of six Premiership players, the largest contingent in 2013 AFCON.
Besides, the Ivoirians have five players from the French League 1 as well as two from the German Bundesliga and another one from the Spanish League.
For Nigeria, most players are from the backwaters of the European leagues and sprinkles of the lowly rated Nigerian league. Besides, statistics of the competition are in favour of Cote d’Ivoire which, with seven goals so far, is the best attacking side.
But the Super Eagles are more determined than ever. Coach Keshi said on Saturday that he expects his team to give its all and come out tops in what is being projected as a spectacle.
The NFF president described the encounter as the 'final before final'. And, indeed, it is. Confrontations of Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire in the African Nations Cup finals have always been titanic.
There have been five of such duels. The last two clashes in 2006 and 2008 were in favour of the Didier Drogba-inspired side. But that is where the odds end on the side of Cote d’Ivoire.
On occasions that they overcame Nigeria, they ended up not winning the African Nations Cup.
That happened in 2006 when they beat Nigeria 1-0 through a 46th minute goal by Drogba in the semi-finals and in 2008 group game when Salomon Kalou’s solitary goal was the decider.
But on editions that Nigeria either beat Cote d’Ivoire or there was a stalemate, the Super Eagles emerged champions.
That was the case in 1980 when Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire ended their group game barren and also in 1994 when the semi-final clash ended 2-2 and Nigeria became victorious in a penalty shoot-out despite the initial set back of Samson Siasia missing his kick.
This will be the 21st encounter ever for both sides and honours are almost evenly shared.
Nigeria have won six and lost five times to Cote d’Ivoire. The nine other matches were drawn.
For Nigeria, Coach Keshi said it was a team still under reconstruction. But for Cote d’Ivoire, it is the final chance for the country’s golden generation as most of the stars are likely to bow out after this tournament.
In fact, Didier Drogba has announced his imminent retirement.
“We must take our chances,' Aminu Maigari, the NFF boss remarked while previewing what is easily the most difficult match for Coach Keshi since becoming the Super Eagles handler in November 2011.
“Our country is one of the biggest and most respected football-playing nations of the world. At every opportunity, we must fully underscore this fact. We are a powerful nation on and off the field,” said Maigari.
Keshi appears to plan for a cagey defensive style and looks like opting for a 4-5-1 formation.
In contrast, the Ivorian coach, Sabri Lamouchi may retain his 4-2-1-1 formation which has seen the side scoring the highest number of goals so far in the competition.