- Nigeria's Super Eagles will look to put behind a troubled week when they face Equatorial Guinea in their opening match of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
- In the week before the tournament, Nigeria lost Bayer Leverkusen's Victor Boniface and Real Sociedad's Umar Sadiq to injury.
Still, the African powerhouse remains favourites to secure a matchday one victory over the National Thunder.
Nigeria are veterans of the AFCON, having made 19 previous appearances and won the tournaments three times in 1980, 1994, and 2013.
The Super Eagles boast the best striker on the continent at the moment in Victor Osimhen, with the reigning Africa Footballer of the Year one of the players expected to light up Cote d'Ivoire.
Jose Peseiro's men were among the best teams to qualify for this competition, topping Group A ahead of Guinea-Bissau after winning five of six games.
Nigeria scored 22 goals during that qualifying campaign - the most of any of the 24 teams at the AFCON - with Osimhen netting ten of the goals to finish as the top scorer.
While a win is within the grasp of the Super Eagles, it would be foolhardy to underestimate Equatorial Guinea.
The central African nation is making its fourth appearance at the AFCON since debuting as host in 2012.
Interestingly, the Nacional Thunder have never failed to make it past the group stage of the AFCON, reaching the quarterfinals twice and the semifinal in 2015.
Within that time, they defeated Senegal, Tunisia (after extra time), Algeria, and Mali (on penalties) to show they are expert giant killers.
It would be thrilling to see how Equatorial Guinea measure up in the first-ever faceoff with Nigeria at the AFCON.
Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea are meeting for the third time at the senior level, but never have they played against each other at the AFCON.
In their two previous meetings during the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Nigeria dominated, winning 1-0 in Malabo and 2-0 in Abuja to claim a 3-0 aggregate victory.
In addition, when the Super Eagles B team traded tackles with Equatorial Guinea at the 2018 African Nations Championship in Morocco, Nigeria came from a goal deficit to carve out a 3-1 win.
History will, however, count for nothing when both teams take to the pitch in Abidjan on Sunday.
Nigeria have been hit hard by injury, with Wilfred Ndidi, Boniface, and Sadiq all ruled out of the AFCON.
Alhassan Yusuf, Terem Moffi, and Paul Onuachu have been called up as their replacements, but the latter duo may not make it to Cote d'Ivoire in time to feature against the National Thunder.
However, coach Jose Peseiro retains quality in the attacking third with Ademola Lookman, Samuel Chukwueze, and Moses Simon able to assist Napoli goal king, Osimhen.
Victor Osimhen will carry the hopes of 200 million Nigerians on his young shoulders in Cote d'Ivoire. The 24-year-old has the quality and heart to rise to the occasion.
Osimhen almost single-handedly steered Napoli to a historic Scuddeto title last year with his goals, and he was rewarded with a top-ten placing in the FIFA Balon d'Or.
The 2023 AFCON could be Osimhen's tournament as he goes to show why he is Nigeria and Africa's Best Player.
Equatorial Guinea's MVP
Emilio Nsue López is his country's captain, their top scorer of all time, and their most widely-travelled footballer.
Born and nurtured in Spain, he played and won titles with the Spanish youth teams before committing to play for Equatorial Guinea.
An experienced full-back and a versatile winger, Nsue has played for Mallorca, Real Sociedad, Middlesbrough, and Birmingham City.
He was a key member of the side that finished in fourth place at the 2015 AFCON, and he will look to bring his experience to bear as the National Thunder aim for new heights.
Match - Nigeria vs Equatorial Guinea
Competition: 2023 AFCON
Venue: Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan
Date: Sunday, 14 January 2024
Time: 3 pm (Nigerian time)