Cup holders Nigeria will refuse to negotiate dropping any of the three points when they confront the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in Cairo in Saturday’s opener to Group B of the 3rd Africa U23 Cup of Nations.
The tantalizing West African derby will unfold at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo – the same venue where the Super Eagles picked up the bronze medals of the 32nd AFCON after pipping Tunisia 1-0 in July – as from 3pm Egypt time (2pm in Nigeria).
Coach Imama Amapakabo has been able to welcome the majority of his listed overseas-based professionals, and with the complement of glory –hungry home-based professionals expects to brush aside the challenge of the Ivorians, Zambia, and South Africa in the group phase.
On Thursday, the Nigeria camp received a morale boost when top officials of the Nigeria embassy in Cairo, led by Abubakar Sadiq Muhammad, visited the team to deliver the message of the ambassador, His Excellency Professor Dandatti Abdulkadir, OFR.
“On behalf of the Nigerian Ambassador to Egypt, Prof. Dandatti Abdulkadir, OFR, and the Nigerian Government, I welcome you to Egypt and wish you a successful outing in the forthcoming U23 AFCON tournament. Football is a major unifying factor in our country, and I believe you will all make us proud starting with the game against Cote d’Ivoire.
“Our presence here is to make sure you are comfortable. We will be at the stadium on Saturday in order to give you our maximum support,” said Muhammad, in company with head of chancery Ibrahim Ahmed Al-Ghazali and Muhammad Tukur Garba, administrative officer.
The Nigeria U23 contingent spent six days in Ismailia fine-tuning preparations for the finals before arriving in Cairo on Wednesday, where they are staying at the Novotel Hotel and Resorts.
Despite missing the services of substantive captain Azubuike Okechukwu and forward Taiwo Awoniyi for Saturday’s encounter, Amakapabo is bullish about the chances of his team against the fellow West Africans.
“We have players in camp here who are ready to give their all and do Nigeria proud any day, any time. We are quietly confident and will take it one match at a time.
“We are quite aware that as defending champions, so much is expected of us. This team will throw everything into the battle and ensure it does not disappoint Nigerians.”
Former FIFA U17 World Cup –winning captain Kelechi Nwakali will be stand-in captain and will be expected to supply the ammunition from the midfield for the strikers, including his former U17 teammate Orji Okonkwo, to make hay at the fore.
The Nigeria team is brimming with hard workers, such as defenders Valentine Ozornwafor, Olisah Ndah, Sincere Seth and Anthony Izuchukwu, and midfielders Sunusi Ibrahim, Muyiwa Olabiran, Ndifreke Effiong.
England –based Tom Dele-Bashiru, who starred for the Nigeria U20 team at the FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland this year summer, will be expected to provide some top competition experience and steel in the middle.
Host nation Egypt will tackle Mali in Friday’s tournament opening match at the Cairo International Stadium from 4pm (3pm Nigeria time), before the two other Group teams Cameroon and Ghana clash at the same venue as from 6pm Nigeria time.