Home Sports AFCON 2023: Eagles to claw Elephants under intense firepower in Ebimpe

AFCON 2023: Eagles to claw Elephants under intense firepower in Ebimpe

William Ekong at the pre-match press conference on Wednesday.

Nigeria and hosts Côte d’Ivoire clash in one of the most anticipated matches of the 34th Africa Cup of Nations on Thursday, in a 60,000-capacity stadium that organisers say will be filled to the brim just before kick-off. It is the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Ebimpe, outside Abidjan, where both teams played their first games of the competition with differing fortunes.

The Elephants celebrated a 2-0 win over Guinea Bissau’s Wild Dogs on the opening day of the tournament, while the Eagles forced Equatorial Guinea’s Thunder to a 1-1 draw on Day 2.

It has been 40 years since Cote d’Ivoire last hosted African football’s flagship championship. That year, a youthful Nigerian team prevailed over Cup holders Ghana and drew with Malawi and Algeria to reach the semi-finals of an eight-nation competition, before coming from behind to draw 2-2 with Egypt’s Pharaohs and then emerge victorious on penalties in Bouake. They lost the Final 1-3 to Cameroon. Today, the AFCON is a 24-nation final tournament.

At Wednesday’s pre-match conference in Abidjan, Coach José Peseiro disclosed that hard-as-nails midfielder Alhassan Yusuf, who impressed against Thunder on Sunday, is out of reckoning due to injury he copped in the encounter. “Yusuf is out of the game tomorrow. He is fine but not ready for tomorrow’s match. He will be ready for the last group match.”

Peseiro stated further: “We have what it takes to win the game tomorrow and there’s nothing to change in my team because we created lot of goalscoring opportunities in our game against Equatorial Guinea and we hope to utilise the opportunities this time and score goals.”

Captain Max Alain Gradel, who has 105 caps and was part of the Elephants’s squad that won the trophy in Equatorial Guinea in 2015, said: “We are Cote d’Ivoire. We respect all our opponents. But we fear nobody. We will do what we have to do.

We respect all our opponents. But we fear nobody. We will do what we have to do.

“It is a special moment for us to play the Africa Cup of Nations in our home, with the support of our people. We will do everything to make the people proud. We have super players in the squad, especially for what they bring to the group. It is a decisive match; it is an important match. We know what we have to do.”

Coach Jean-Louis Gasset said: “We are relieved; the pressure was so strong. We had seven players who started the match (against Guinea Bissau) who were playing in their first AFCON. Not everything went well, but we are relieved. All the matches we have seen have a different scenario. In the match of Nigeria, they had one or two opportunities against Equatorial Guinea. If you don’t make your superiority count, the opponent will become confident. There are no more small teams.”

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