At the beginning of the Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Egypt 2019 Group B games, most would not have pictured a clash between Madagascar and Nigeria being a top of the table clash.
But, the debutants have shown that they are not in Cairo to tour but compete, after putting up stellar performances in their two opening games to pick up four points and remain second in the standings.
Madagascar earned a 2-2 draw against Guinea in their opening match before beating fellow new comers Burundi 1-0 to put themselves firmly in contention for a place in the last 16. They will only need a point to assure themselves of finishing second.
The Barea have played without fear in both games and with a historic berth at the round of 16 in their hands, they will not let their feet off the gas peddles when they face three-time champions Nigeria.
Head coach Nicolas Dupuis will have a full strength squad to choose from with defender Jeremy Morel fully recovered from an injury he picked up during the first game.
The Super Eagles were the first to confirm their place in the last 16 after back to back 1-0 victories over Guinea and Burundi saw them collect six points. Their ambition would be to finish top of the group and get what on paper would be an easier round of 16 tie.
The winner of the group will face one of the four best number three teams from either Group A, C or D while the second placed team will face the runner up from Group F which has Cameroon, Ghana, Benin and Guinea Bissau.
Ahead of Sunday’s match, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr will only have two injury worries; right back Shehu Abdullahi and Jamilu Collins who both have been carrying injuries. Shehu picked up an injury in the first game against Burundi while Jamilu was injured just before the tournament started.
Nigeria coach Rohr might be tempted to tweak his squad a bit to give his seniors some rest as well as opening up an opportunity for those who might have not picked enough playing time to have some minutes under their belts and impress.
What they said:
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr:
They are a team which is very fit because they have some very good staff who can help them recover quickly. This will be a very open game because they play good football. They are better than us offensively because they have scored more and they are a team with a lot of qualities on set pieces.
It will be like a final in the group because the winner will finish top and for us it will be good to finish at the top. That is the motivation for us. It is better to play a number three team in the round of 16 than number two.
Nigeria striker Ahmed Musa:
Madagascar is a very good team with good players but we are not afraid of any country in the tournament. We are coming here to give our best and at the end of 90 minutes we want to be the best team.
We have put behind all issues around the team off the field and as players we have our focus on the game and what has brought us here. As you saw from the game against Guinea, we are not deterred.
Madagascar coach Nicolas Dupuis:
First of all I am proud of my players because we are in our first participatin and we are going on well so far. We are playing our best on the pitch and for the last game we are going in with no pressure. We want to go and enjoy ourselves.
We are having fun playing and it will be bad if we stop now. Nigeria is a tough team with quality players but we will go give our best.
Madagascar defender Ibrahim Samuel Amada:
We are happy with how we have performed so far and the results in the first two games have added a lot of confidence in our side. Four points is good enough because it is almost that we have qualified. We want to do more to develop our game as we continue.
Nigeria is a tough team with very fast players and lots of experience. For us, we know it will be tough but we will do our best.