As the African Cup of Nations gets into full swing, the second round of fixtures gets underway this afternoon with a clash between Nigeria’s Super Eagles and the Elephants of Guinea. This is a game with plenty of European interest, including the chance for two of the Premier League’s most talented young midfielders to put each other through their paces. Leicester’s Wilfried Ndidi is a mainstay in the Nigerian engine room, while Guinea can boast a freshly-minted Champions League winner in the shape of Liverpool’s Naby Keita.
It’s the Eagles who can lay claim to the greater historic pedigree in the tournament, having won it on three occasions (1980, 1994 and 2013), and with two Olympic silver medals in the treasury, they’re expected to show up well here. Then again, this is their first CAN since that 2013 win, having missed out on the competitions in Gabon (2015) and Equatorial Guinea (2017). The Elephants were also absent two years ago, but qualified in 2015, drew all of their group games and were then thrashed 3-0 by Ghana in the second round. They boast players from each of Europe’s top five leagues, and Nigeria will need to take them seriously in this contest.
Nigeria looking for attacking spark
Gernot Rohr’s side come into the game with three points already in the bag courtesy of an opening victory over Burundi, albeit one that had to be eked out. Former Watford man Odion Ighalo, on as a 73rd-minute substitute, scored the game’s only goal against an opponent expected to finish bottom of the group. Ighalo is expected to start here at the expense of lanky centre-forward Ebere Onuachu, and his experience at a high level needs to translate into goals if Nigeria are to go far in this tournament.
Given that they can call on an attacking trident with Premier League experience, the Eagles have to be confident of creating openings, especially with the often farcical showing Guinea’s defence put in against Madagascar in an opening 2-2 draw. A win should be well within reach for this Nigerian side, and with Ighalo priced at 2/1 with Unibet to score any time in this game, the striker is worth backing given the chances he should be able to carve out for himself this afternoon.
A step up for Guinea
Boasting one of Europe’s most expensive midfielders in their armoury, Guinea would expect to be finishing at least second in Group B ahead of Madagascar and Burundi. However, they’ve left themselves with work to do after the 2-2 draw against the first of those two opponents; they could go into the final match with a single point and needing a win over Burundi to have any chance of staying in. A draw would be a more than decent result for Paul Put’s side, but you’d have to strongly advise them against playing for one on the basis of Saturday’s showing.
The best hope for the Elephants is to replicate the zippy attacking play that saw them create more than enough openings to win at the weekend, and for Nigeria to be as wasteful in front of goal as they were against Burundi. Of course, that first part will be easier said than done given Nigeria’s solidity in defence and midfield. Not only that, but if Rohr’s men were profligate with their scoring chances at the weekend, it was nothing compared to the chances Guinea missed in their first game. Lacking a first-class striker hurt them in their first game, but it could sink them here. With William Hill offering odds of 15/2 on a 2-0 Nigeria win, we see that as a realistic punt.
Nervous Nigeria to make heavy weather of it?
There is no doubt that Nigeria are the favourites here, and as third-favourites for the tournament they would hope to have qualification for the next round sewn up by the time they kick off their third game, against Madagascar this Sunday. Their greater experience at all levels should assure they have the game management to see them home in this game, but it’s also true that there is a fine line between tactical discipline and excessive caution; they dipped too far into the latter against Burundi and it came within 13 minutes of costing them a win. Against a Guinea side with greater attacking threat, the Eagles need to find a balance.
On the flip-side, Burundi came into the tournament looking to avoid humiliation, and they sought to nullify the stronger side at the weekend. Guinea are much more likely to take the game to Nigeria, and this should leave gaps at the back, particularly later in the game. We can see the favourites taking a reserved approach to this game, expecting those gaps to open up, and it would be no surprise at all if they reached half-time with the game still tied before picking off the goals they need in the second period. You can get 4/1 on that eventuality with Betway, and we’d recommend backing it on the basis of both teams’ form so far.
Bets of the Day
Draw/Nigeria (Betway, 4/1); 2-0 Nigeria (William Hill, 15/2); Odio Ighalo to score (Unibet, 2/1)