Nigeria and Senegal square off in London on Thursday, with the Super Eagles looking to make a statement and refine their approach ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Cameroon later in the year and the upcoming Nations Cup qualifiying campaign.
The Teranga Lions are a whopping 13 places above the West African giants in the Fifa rankings and may ostensibly have the edge over their opponents in this fixture having made it to the quarter-finals of the Afcon in Gabon, where they were defeated on penalties by eventual champions Cameroon in the quarter-finals after an impressive four-game showing.
Senegal have quality across the board, with experienced and versatile defenders coupled with a resolute midfield and an inventive, mobile collection of attackers.
In attack, Sadio Mane is arguably the most in-form African in Europe at the moment; he’s been on song for Liverpool this term having scored 11 goals in 22 league appearances since moving from Southampton.
Mane’s pace, directness and trickery makes it difficult for defenders to contain him, while his eye for goal also means one can bank on him to find the back of net anytime.
Another player that has the potential to trouble the Super Eagles is Keita Balde, who has put in some fine performances for Lazio this season, scoring eight goals in 22 appearances. Like Mane, Keita’s pace and dribbling are sure to unsettle the Nigerian backline.
The effectiveness of these forwards will be a problem for the Super Eagles, and especially for Gernot Rohr's full-backs.
Elderson Echiejile remains the favoured on the left despite his poor performances for club and country in recent times. There hasn’t been a solution to the problem of finding a solid right-back where Tyronne Ebuehi might fill in. However, he’s not had a good time with Dutch outfit ADO Den Haag who are second from bottom in the Eredivisie and this puts more strain on the centre-backs Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong. They will be required to cover the wide areas should Mane and Keita start to cause havoc.
Going forward, Nigeria will also have their work cut out to break down a Senegal backline that is both physically imposing and mobile.
Alou Cisse can call on Idrissa Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyate and Kalidou Koulibaly, with the first of these having been one of the standout defensive midfielders in the Premier League this season. The Everton man's ability to go into neat tackles and make brilliant interceptions has prompted comparisons with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, and the parallels aren't hard to understand.
Kouyate is another defensively minded player to watch out for; the versatile midfielder has remained an important figure for West Ham United this season, and with a height of 189 cm, he’s a commanding aerial presence in both boxes.
His ability to read the game well also means he can create chances for his teammates up front and can score some great goals when forward. His presence will thus make life hard for Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo and Ogenyi Onazi who look set to play in Nigeria’s midfield.
The absence of captain John Obi Mikel might create greater problems in the middle of park for Nigeria, as trying to control possession and contain Senegalese charges threatens to be an ominous task without the skipper.
While Senegal's defence would fancy their chances of containing any of the continent's attacking units, the fact that many of the Super Eagles forwards are out of form is hardly auspicious for Rohr's charges.
Arsenal’s recent poor run has seen Alex Iwobi struggle to hit the heights. while Kelechi Iheanacho has found game time hard to come by at Manchester City following the arrival of Gabriel Jesus and the reinvigoration of Sergio Aguero and Victor Moses has withdrawn from the squad due to injury.
For the neutral, this clash between two of Africa's big dogs should be an entertaining contest and a glimpse into how both are shaping up ahead of the qualifiers to come. For Nigeria in particular, still on the road to redemption after missing out on the Afcon, the match is an opportunity for Rohr to continue to demonstrate that he's the man to make the most of this talented new generation.