Holders Nigeria start title defense campaign against Cote d’Ivoire

Nigeria U23 team line up against  Libya

Group B action of the Total U-23 Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2019 kicks off on Saturday at the Cairo based Al Salam Stadium, when Nigeria faces Cote d’Ivoire in a thrilling West African derby.

The Olympic Eagles of Nigeria start their title defense campaign taking on Ivorian Elephants. Nigeria wrote history when they became the first ever African side to claim Olympic gold, in Atlanta 1996. The class of Nwankwo Kanu, Jay-Jay Okocha, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amuneke and co famously overcame Brazil in the semifinals then Argentina in the final to mark new history for African football.

Nigeria had since then added two more Olympic medals; Silver in Beijing 2008 and Bronze in the last Olympics, Rio de Janeiro 2016. The Olympic Eagles were crowned champions of the second U-23 AFCON edition, four years ago in Senegal.

They come to Egypt with high hopes to retain their continental crown, and guarantee another appearance in the quadrennial global sports event, an eighth in their history. Led by Imama Amapakabo, The Olympic Eagles will count on the likes of Kelechi Nwakali, Taiwo Awoniyi and last edition’s most valuable player Azubike Okechukwu.

CIV u23a

On the other hand, Cote d’Ivoire are eyeing a second appearance in the Olympic Games, after their maiden and only participation eleven years ago, in Beijing 2008. Ironically it was none but Nigeria themselves who kicked them out of the Olympics quarterfinals, defeating them 2-0 on their way to Olympic silver this year.

Les Elephants coach Soualiho Haidara will hold his hopes on the shoulders of Italian side Genoa prolific striker Christian Kouame. The 21-year old had scored five goals for Rossoblu in Serie A this season and proclaimed himself as one of the continent’s most promising talents.

Match Info

Saturday 9 November 2019

Group B

Nigeria v Cote d'Ivoire – Al Salam Stadium (17:00 local time, 15:00 GMT)

What they said

Imama Amapakabo (Coach, Nigeria)

We are the defending champions and the expectations are high in our country, as the U-23 team has already won everything in the Olympics; gold (1996), silver (2008) and bronze (2016).

Kelechi Nwakali (Captain, Nigeria)

We know that Cote d’Ivoire is a very good team. It will be a very tough competition but we have worked to achieve our common goal which is a place in the 2020 Olympics.

Soualiho Haidara (Coach, Cote d’Ivoire)

Cote d’Ivoire will be ready not only against Nigeria but also for all other teams of the group. It’s a tough group but we are focused.

Ismail Diallo (Captain, Cote d’Ivoire)

When we talk about the national jersey, all games are important. This competition qualifies for the Olympics, which is even more important.