Nigeria take on leaders Algeria in a final U23 AFCON Group B match on Saturday in Dakar knowing that they cannot afford to lose the game if they are to stay on course for qualification to next year’s Rio Olympics.
Both Nigeria and Algeria are on four points each after two rounds of matches with Egypt on two points still in with a chance if they won their final game against Mali, who have already been eliminated from the championship.
Victory over the North Africans on Saturday will guarantee Nigeria passage to the last four, while a draw could also be enough, but that would depend on the result between Egypt and Mali.
Incidentally, both Nigeria and Algeria also clashed in a final group game four years ago in the same competition in Morocco.
Nigeria won 4-1, but it was not enough to get them through to the knockout rounds because they had already lost their two other group games.
Before this competition, the biggest undoing for coach Samson Siasia’s team was that they were not scoring goals despite the many chances they create.
However, their performance in Senegal has been baffling particularly going by their collapse in the second half against both Mali and Egypt.
“It has been very confusing and worrisome. Before now the problem was scoring goals, but now it is defending the goals you have scored,” admitted team spokesman Timi Ebikagbaro.
“But whatever be the case, the boys know we have to get a result against Algeria not minding the outcome of the match.”
The Nigeria defence has remained shaky despite the dropping of Kano Pillars ace Zaharadeen Bello for the more experienced Chizoba Amaefule, who scored an own goal against Egypt on Wednesday.
Siasia may need to draft a more defensive player in the midfield, where Oghenekaro Etebo, skipper Azubuike Okechukwu and Usman Mohammed are all attack-minded.
Swiss coach Pierre-Andre Schurmann has assembled a very tactically sound team with the lively Zinedine Ferhat the team’s standout star with two goals. They will not make it easy for Nigeria.
Kick-off time is 4pm at the Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium in Dakar.