U23 Afcon: Cote d'Ivoire will not be pushovers for Nigeria - Ekpo

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Nigeria U23
The former Super Eagles international is unfazed despite the recent poor run in the age division

Former Super Eagles midfielder Friday Ekpo has stated he is confident Nigeria will enjoy a good start at the 2019 Africa U23 Cup of Nations on Saturday against Cote d'Ivoire.

Ekpo admitted the other Nigeria age-grade teams, the U17 and U20 teams failed to live up to expectations in their most recent outings, but he remains optimistic the U23 team will get it right in the continental tournament taking place in Egypt.

“I think this U23 [team] will do well in Egypt, I am not jittery in any form, I have always supported the national teams and I will continue to do so,” Ekpo told Goal in an exclusive interview.

“The opening game of any tournament is always very important so I expect that the coach and the players will put their best foot forward and get it right from this first game.

Imama Amapakabo’s men qualified for the tournament after defeating Sudan, and a win against the Ivorians will be ideal for their quest to represent Africa at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games.

“I don’t think they should settle for less, they should have their eyes on winning the title again and take each match as they come,” Ekpo added.

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“I know Cote d'Ivoire usually have a fantastic youth system so their team will not be pushovers, so it is important that the coach and his players adopt the right strategy for this game."

The Nigeria U23s have been plagued with a series of late withdrawals including the unavailability of captain Azubuike Okechukwu.

Kelechi Nwakali has since been elected to lead the team in the absence of Okechukwu.