By Kunle Adedoyin
The Super Eagles will today seek to emerge from the first round group stage of an Africa Cup of Nations competition without conceding a goal as it takes on the Barea of Madagascar at the Alexandria Stadium.
It the team managed not to concede a goal in today’s encounter, it will be the first time it would have a clean sheet in group phase of the competition since its first appearance at the finals in 1963.
The closest the Eagles have come to a clean sheet in group phase was 13 years ago – also in Egypt – when it defeated Ghana and Zimbabwe 1-0 and 2-0 respectively but conceded one goal in a 2-1 defeat of Senegal in their third match in Port Said.
However, the Eagles might have it tough in today’s match as debutants Madagascar’s 2-2 draw with Guinea in their first match and 1-0 win over Burundi on Thursday mean they now have a place in the Round of 16, but they are bound to go full throttle against group leaders Nigeria having never scored a goal against the Super Eagles in four previous encounters.
Likewise, the Madagascar team will be playing to ensure that it finishes at least finish second in the group, knowing that Guinea (with one point) still have a chance to finish second if it wins well against Burundi and they – Barea – are beaten roundly by Nigeria.
For Nigeria, more than the desire for a historic clean sheet in group phase, the attractive option of playing a third-place finisher in Round of 16, as well as the need to remain in now familiar Alexandria for their next game, will push them to confront the Barea with all their strength.
Seyi Akinwunmi, Acting President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), told thenff.com: “We have six points and are already in the Round of 16. But the team wants a clean record in this group stage to go ahead with and get used to. There will definitely be bigger hurdles later on in the tournament so there is the need to get used to winning and maintaining clean sheets.”
Today’s encounter will be Nigeria’s 89th match at the Africa Cup of Nations in 18 appearances, from which they have won 47, drawn 22 and lost 19. The team has also won the title three times, silver medals five times and picked up the bronze seven times.
On individual honours’ level, Nigeria captain Mikel John Obi will earn his 89th cap for the Eagles in 14 years of commendable service if he is fielded, while deputy captain Ahmed Musa countenances his 81st cap.