Nigeria’s Super Eagles will begin their quest to win a fourth Africa Cup of Nations title with a game against Egypt on Wednesday.
But the Nigerian team, is depleted as three of their top marksmen men missed out on the party to Cameroon.
Overall top scorer in the team, Odion Ighalo did not make it to the AFCON; current top scorer, Victor Osimhem is out with illness while Paul Onuachu is out injured.
However, the absences create opportunities for a number of young guns to make hay at Africa’s grand houseparty.
Former U17 star Taiwo Awoniyi is expected to lead the line and reproduce some of his potency from which German Bundesliga club Union Berlin is benefitting, with Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho and Czech Republic -based Peter Olayinka also on the line.
Skipper Ahmed Musa and Samuel Chukwueze hit target in the training match with Cameroonian top club, Cotonsport Garoua on Friday, and there are also Greece –based Henry Onyekuru and former Olympics star Sadiq Umar as possibilities in the frontline.
Injury has kept out midfield linchpin Oghenekaro Etebo, but Wilfred Ndidi will still enforce and former U17 World Cup –winning captain Kelechi Nwakali is expected to step up to the plate and show muscle in the playmaker’s role.
Defender Leon Balogun’s forced absence, through injury, means Italy-based right back Tyrone Ebuehi will probably start while Chidozie Awaziem and Kenneth Omeruo hold sway in central, and Portugal –based Zaidu Sanusi will contend with the left back role with the versatile Olaoluwa Aina.
In 1990, a lone goal by Rashidi Yekini consigned the Pharaohs to defeat in a group phase match in Algiers, and in 1994, both teams battled to a scoreless draw at the Stade Chadli Zouiten in Tunis.
Eguavoen, who leads Nigeria from the bench on Tuesday, was involved in that cagey affair in the cold of central Tunis, but envisages that there will be nothing cagey about Tuesday’s game in the sunny atmosphere of Stade Roumdé Adjia.
“I look forward to an interesting game between two ambitious teams. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we will take it one match at a time. For now, we see the clash with Egypt and all our plan is how to earn the three points. The Egyptians are a strong team and will come with a lot of confidence and steam, but we will also be going to the field with a lot of confidence and steam. It is going to be an interesting evening.”
Egypt swept the stakes at the first two editions of Africa’s flagship football competition, in 1957 and 1959, and then won on home soil in 1986 and in Burkina Faso 12 years later, before a hat-trick of consecutive titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Nigeria soared to glory on home soil in 1980, won in Tunisia in 1994 and overturned bookmakers’ predictions to triumph in South Africa nine years ago.
Both teams are not unfamiliar to themselves at the AFCON, with the Pharaohs hammering the Eagles 6-3 in Nigeria’s first-ever match at the competition (in Ghana in 1963) and coming from behind to tame the Eagles 3-1 in the city of Benguela (Angola) in 2010.
In all other confrontations at the Africa Cup of Nations, the Eagles have had the upper hand.
On their march to victory in 1980, the Eagles sailed past the Pharaohs 1-0 in a group phase clash in Ibadan, and four years later, following a pulsating 2-2 draw in a semi final match in Bouake (Cote d’Ivoire), Nigeria won on penalties to reach the final against Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions.
Egypt depends heavily on Liverpool ace Mohamed Salah, recently shortlisted for the FIFA Best Player award.
Victory on Tuesday evening will provide confidence boost for the Super Eagles ahead of the other Group D ties against Sudan (January 15) and Guinea Bissau (January 19).