29 Jun 2019, 22:08 IST
Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr is wary of being upstaged by an increasingly confident Madagascar as top spot in Group B goes on the line at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Super Eagles have recorded unspectacular 1-0 wins over Burundi and Guinea to date and need only a draw in Alexandria on Sunday to stay first.
Madagascar, though, are reconfiguring their expectations following their first ever victory at the tournament, a 1-0 defeat of Burundi last time out.
The newcomers are not mathematically assured of a place in the knockout rounds but, with four points in the bank and something of a free hit at distinguished opposition ahead, Rohr is on alert.
“Madagascar is a strong team and they have a great manager,” said the German, who has been in charge of Nigeria since 2016.
“They will be greatly prepared but we have enough experience to overcome this match. It’s important to finish this group in first place.”
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Despite the danger, Rohr is ready to make changes to the starting XI in order to keep “pressure” on his players.
That could mean a recall for John Obi Mikel after the captain watched the Guinea game from the bench.
Madagascar coach Nicolas Dupuis promised another fighting performance from his team regardless of the side Rohr sends out.
“I trust every player and I know they’re up to the responsibility, even in front of a strong team like Nigeria,” Dupuis said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Madagascar – Marco Ilaimaharitra
Madagascar’s landmark victory over Burundi – the nation’s first of any kind since October 2018 – came courtesy of Ilaimaharitra’s fine late free-kick, the Charleroi midfielder marking himself as one to be monitored with a thumping strike from the edge of the area.
Nigeria – Ola Aina
Chelsea product Aina, a former England youth international now playing for Torino at club level, pinned his international allegiance to Nigeria in 2017 and has started both games in Egypt.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Madagascar could become the seventh nation to go unbeaten in their first three Africa Cup of Nations matches, and the first since Cape Verde in 2013.
– Nigeria have won their last six games at the Africa Cup of Nations – only Egypt have enjoyed a better run in the history of the tournament (nine wins, between February 2008 and January 2010).
– Charles Andriamahitsinoro has been involved in two of Madagascar’s three goals, scoring one and assisting another. He has also attempted four of Madagascar’s eight shots on target.
– Nigeria have already qualified for the knockout rounds, this being the 13th successive occasion in which they have advanced beyond the group stage.
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