Sports Mole previews the Africa Cup of Nations group-stage clash between Nigeria and Burundi in Alexandria, including team news and predicted lineups.
The Super Eagles are aiming to go all the way for the second time in six years and have a nice fixture to ease themselves in.
Dealt a difficult hand in last summer’s World Cup, placed in a group with Argentina and finalists Croatia, Nigeria crashed out at the group stage and they are now looking to make amends.
Advancing to the knockout rounds is their minimum target in Egypt, though reaching the final on July 19 and adding to their three previous titles will be the real aim.
Experienced boss Gernot Rohr, who has managed four African sides over the last nine years, has assembled a talented group that looks capable of challenging the likes of Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana and hosts Egypt.
However, up against a side 89 places below them in the latest FIFA rankings in their opening fixture, anything other than victory for the Super Eagles will be considered a major shock.
Then comes a trickier match against Guinea in their second match, before facing another competition debutant in Madagascar.
The battle with Guinea is expected to determine which side finishes top of Group B. Getting off to a positive start against Burundi is therefore imperative for Rohr and his players.
Recent form (all competitions): DDWWDL
Burundi are competing in a major tournament for the first time ever after finishing above Gabon in qualifying with 10 points from their six group matches.
The Swallows may be newbies on the big stage but, as they showed throughout the qualifying campaign, they cannot be written off as they drew home and away with Gabon and did enough in their other fixtures to finish second to Mali, who they will face in the competition proper.
Ranked 134th in the world, though, Burundi have a massive task on their hands if they are to make it any further than the group phase.
The last debutants to progress beyond the first round were Cape Verde, who qualified for the 2013 quarter-finals at the expense of Angola and Morocco before losing to Ghana.
Olivier Niyungeko‘s men had gone seven games without defeat prior to that, earning a couple of draws against Gabon and Mali, as well as holding Algeria.
Playing out 1-1 draws is very much Burundi’s forte – that has been the scoreline in five of their last eight matches – and that will be the aim against heavyweights Nigeria on Saturday.
Achieve that and Niyungeko’s side will remain well on course to keeping their dream adventure alive.
Recent form (all competitions): DDWDDL
Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper Francis Uzoho appears to have won the battle to start in goal for Nigeria after featuring in the final warm-up match.
Mikel has proved his fitness on his return to the fold and he is still a key man in midfield, forming the backbone of the side alongside Wilfred Ndidi.
Ighalo scored seven goals during their qualifying campaign and was the top scorer overall in 2019 AFCON qualifying.
Saido Berahino is arguably the most well-known player in the Swallows’ squad. The former Premier League attacker has the opportunity to make himself a hero for his country in what is his first major international tournament.
Despite the loss to Tunisia, Niyungeko may be tempted to go with the same starting lineup for this massive game.
Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Uzoho; Shehu, Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Collins; Ndidi, Obi Mikel, Etebo; Iwobi; Musa, Ighalo
Burundi possible starting lineup:
Ndikumana; Nsabiyumva, Amissi, Nduwarugira, Moussa; Kamsoba, Ngandu, Bigirimana, Berahino; Razak, Duhayindavyi
Head To Head
These two sides will be facing off for the first time in Saturday’s clash at the Alexandria Stadium.
We say: Nigeria 2-0 Burundi
Nigeria suffered a first defeat in nine in their final pre-tournament friendly, while Burundi also saw their unbeaten run come to an end with a late defeat to Tunisia.
Three-time continental champions Nigeria, who have failed to qualify for the past two editions of the tournament, are strong favourites here and should get the job done with a minimum of fuss.
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Publish date : 2019-06-20 14:42:11