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The seven-time winners have the best individual player at the tournament, while their solid shape and structure should see them past Nigeria.
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Just like the European Championship, the Africa Cup of Nations now features 24 teams. The top two in each group will advance to the knockout phase, along with the four third-place finishers with the best records. The new format, which was introduced in time for the 2019 edition, provides the bigger nations with something akin to an insurance policy. One defeat is no longer such a big deal, although neither Nigeria nor Egypt will want to start off the tournament with a loss.
Egypt are the most successful side in Cup of Nations history, having lifted the trophy seven times and reached a further two finals. Nigeria have gone all the way on three occasions, most recently in 2013, and finished as runners-up in four editions of the competition. It would be a major surprise if either of these teams did not finish in the top two of Group D, with Guinea-Bissau and Sudan expected to battle it out for third place.
Egypt were widely backed to triumph in the last Cup of Nations, which was held on home soil. In the end they did not even reach the quarter-finals. After amassing nine points from a possible nine in the group stage, Mohamed Salah and co. fell to a shock 1-0 defeat by South Africa in the round of 16. Javier Aguirre lost his job as manager shortly after, and his successor Hossam El Badry was dispensed of in favor of Carlos Queiroz last year.
Nigeria only scored two goals in the group stage last time out, but they still progressed in second place. The Super Eagles edged out Cameroon 3-2 and beat South Africa 2-1 to reach the semi-finals, where they suffered a 2-1 loss to eventual champions Algeria. A 1-0 victory over Tunisia in the third-place play-off at least meant Nigeria ended the tournament on a high.
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Before a ball had been kicked at this Cup of Nations, Egypt were listed at +800 by Unibet to win the tournament, with Nigeria priced at +1100. That made them the fourth and seventh favorites to lift the trophy respectively, with Senegal, Algeria and Ivory Coast making up the top three.
Egypt’s approach will be based on being hard to beat first and foremost. Salah is arguably the best player in the world right now, and he arrives in Cameroon having enjoyed a sensational first half of the Premier League season with Liverpool.
Egypt will look to him for inspiration in the final third, but Egypt’s defensive solidity is what could take them far in this competition. The Pharaohs have tended to play cautious, risk-averse soccer in recent years, and Queiroz’s reputation as a builder of solid backlines suggests that will be the case this time around too.
Nigeria’s preparations for the tournament have not been the smoothest. Some poor results in World Cup qualifying in the final quarter of 2021 saw many fans call for the sacking of Gernot Rohr, who was eventually relieved of his duties in the middle of December. Augustine Eguavoen has assumed control on an interim basis, and he is still getting to know his players as the tournament gets under way. Former Venezuela boss Jose Peseiro will take charge after the Cup of Nations.
Nigeria’s squad is not without talent, from Premier League stars Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi and William Troost-Ekong, to the experienced Ahmed Musa and the 22-year-old Samuel Chukwueze. Yet on the eve of the tournament, Nigeria’s recent managerial change means significant question marks remain.
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Egypt will be content to sit deep and play on the counter-attack on Tuesday, utilizing the speed of Salah in transition. Stuttgart’s Omar Marmoush also carries a goal threat, and the Galatasaray frontman Mostafa Mohamed will look to bring the forward line together. Queiroz will encourage his team to remain narrow and compact out of possession, with the defensive line unlikely to push too far up the pitch.
Nigeria are therefore likely to have plenty of the ball, and they will have to show craft and guile to break their opponents down. Egypt could have too much nous for them, though, especially as Eguavoen has not had much time to get his ideas across. Iheanacho is the type of fox-in-the-box striker who could finish as the tournament’s top scorer, but he will be well marshalled by Egypt’s set of wily defenders.
Salah will probably be the difference-maker in this game – and perhaps across the competition as a whole. The Liverpool forward has yet to win silverware with his country and will be desperate to do so in Cameroon. Back his team to begin their campaign with a win.
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|Nigeria vs Egypt Information|
|Teams||Nigeria vs Egypt|
|Location||Stade Roumde Adjia, Garoua, Cameroon|
|Time||Tuesday, 11 January 2022, 11.00 AM EST|
|How to watch||beIN SPORTS|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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