By Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor
As Nigeria’s Super Eagles get set to confront the overwhelming favourites for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations crown, there are some things that the underdogs can exploit whilst the favourites can also press home their superiority.
Goal.com looks at five areas that will prove important as both sides seek victory on Sunday.
|NIGERIA'S DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS
With Fegor Ogude out, it will be up to Obiorah Nwankwo, Ogenyi Onazi or Reuben Gabriel, if he can overcome his injury worries to help the Super Eagles steady the ship against the barrage of attacks that the Elephants will conjure on Sunday.
That the Elephants will attack is stating the obvious as the team is composed and built to attack with Gervinho, Yaya Toure and Salomon Kalou given the freedom to roam. If they find the needed spaces in between the lines, they will hurt the Eagles mercilessly.
So Stephen Keshi has a huge task of getting someone who is technically sound to mark the spaces that will open up and the energy to close these spaces. In 2008, Mikel Obi was introduced in midfield instead of Austin Okocha against Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba and we all know the outcome. The Eagles must not make the same mistake again.
|OFFENSIVE TRANSITION FOR THE SUPER EAGLES
As much as the Elephants have to be feared with their forwards, the Eagles also have players that can hurt the Ivorians, especially on the counter. Ahmed Musa has not been impressive in this tournament (maybe the purple hair was not such a good idea after all) but he carries a great threat if he can just produce that quality final ball.
Victor Moses will see this match as a perfect opportunity to announce his great importance to the Nigerian football public while Emmanuel Emenike has the required arrogance to make him a nuisance to the defence of the Elephants. If the Eagles are to come out victorious, the inert-play between these three players must border on the divine.
The Eagles, on the evidence of what they have showed in South Africa, will not concede many goals and it will almost be a sure banker that if they score two goals, they will likely carry the day. Brown Ideye and Ikechukwu Uche must also be effectively psyched up for the roles they will be playing, albeit starting from the bench.
|THE ELEPHANTS' CENTRAL DEFENSIVE PAIRING
Soulemane Bamba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora are great players but they are on their last legs. And this trio are the last line of the Elephants’ defence. One thing is sure, they are big, strong and reliable but they are not fast over the first 10m. The Nigerian attack is suffused with searing pace that can hurt any defence.The Ivorians will be looking to keep the ball away from the Nigerian strikers on a regular basis so that they do not gain momentum by working up a head of steam. If these three players are targeted and attacked, the Eagles could gain a foothold in the encounter.
Boubacar Barry is the undisputed goal tender for the Elephants while Vincent Enyeama is a constant for the Eagles but both players are prone to the odd misdemeanour. For Barry, it is a penchant of trying to dribble on-rushing attackers and for Enyeama, it is the misjudgement of high balls into his area.
There will not be too much room for redemption in this quarter final encounter so whichever goalkeeper will keep his mistakes to the barest minimum may likely help their country into the semi-final.
|THE TEAM THAT SCORES FIRST
Kalou is yet to score in South Africa after three matches and has been quite profligate in front of goal. These misses will become more important on Sunday because there is likely to be a paucity of goal scoring chances.
Gervinho has been good in two to beat one situation and has converted well while Drogba is just getting up to speed after his Chinese adventures.
For Nigeria, Ike Uche has not come to the party while Emenike, after scoring two goals in three matches, can go on and score more. There is need for Musa and Uche to find their scoring rhythm to help their country qualify.
And as Mikel Obi said; “We have to know how to keep a lead”, that will be the key issue on Sunday as the country that takes the lead in the encounter may likely carry the day.
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