Sports Mole previews the Africa Cup of Nations last-16 clash between Nigeria and Cameroon, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
Two of Africa’s most successful teams will go head to head for a place in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday when Nigeria take on neighbours Cameroon in Alexandria.
Both sides could only finish second in their respective groups and know that a showdown with host nation Egypt could now follow in the next round as a result.
Considering the moments Nigeria have given us at World Cups over the past two decades or so, it is fair to say that they have underachieved recently as far as the Africa Cup of Nations is concerned.
Indeed, this year’s tournament is the first time they have even qualified for the finals since being crowned champions in 2013, having also failed to qualify the year before that.
When they do make it, though, they are usually a force to be reckoned with; the Super Eagles have reached at least the semi-finals in 11 of the past 12 tournaments they have qualified for, and you have to go back to 1982 for the last time they failed to make it through to at least the quarters.
The three-time AFCON champions have not been entirely convincing so far this summer, though, and a shock 2-0 defeat to Madagascar – a team 63 places below them in the FIFA rankings – ensured that the cracks were no longer being papered over following successive 1-0 triumphs over Burundi and Guinea.
Nigeria had to settle for second place behind tournament debutants Madagascar in Group B, leaving them with a difficult-looking route if they are to make it through to at least the semi-finals once again.
It should be noted that Gernot Rohr made five changes to his side for that Madagascar defeat and will be back at full strength this weekend, but even taking that into account they have looked a far cry from the team that performed admirably at last summer’s World Cup.
Nigeria have still only lost twice in the 12 games since their group-stage exit in Russia, though, keeping seven clean sheets in that time including four in their last six outings.
It is at the other end where their main problems have come, scoring only four times those six matches and managing just one shot on target during that loss to Madagascar.
Rohr’s side will still go into Saturday’s match as slight favourites given the talent at their disposal, but they will know that a major improvement is needed if they are to make serious waves in the latter stages of the competition.
Recent AFCON form: WWL
Recent form (all competitions): WDLWWL
Like Nigeria, Cameroon will feel that they should have topped their group after collecting four points from their opening two games, but their final match also cost them.
The defending champions went into their third group game sitting top of the standings, but they were held to a goalless stalemate by a stubborn Benin side that knew such a result would also seal their place in the knockout rounds.
Cameroon enjoyed 72% possession and had 11 shots as they probed for a breakthrough, only to be held to a second successive 0-0 draw following a more acceptable stalemate with Ghana in their second outing.
A 2-0 triumph over Guinea-Bissau in their opener ultimately helped to ease their progress into the knockout stages as one of only four teams to progress without conceding a single goal.
The Indomitable Lions remain unbeaten in their seven outings so far this calendar year, but three of their last four have ended all square and their second-placed finish leaves them with a much more difficult route through the rest of the competition.
Cameroon, who are led by manager Clarence Seedorf and assistant Patrick Kluivert, may be pleased to have even made it this far considering their disrupted buildup to the competition, which saw the players stage a sit-down protest over bonuses.
Indeed, Cameroon were originally meant to be hosting the tournament only to be stripped of those rights in November due to a number of issues.
It has not been an easy road to this stage, then, but Cameroon have too proud a record in this competition to merely be happy with taking part; their triumph in 2017 was the fifth time they have got their hands on the trophy, leaving them second behind only Egypt as the most decorated nation in its history.
Recent AFCON form: WDD
Recent form (all competitions): WWDWDD
Nigeria are expected to welcome some key first-team players back into their starting XI for this match after naming a second-string side against Madagascar.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi and Chelsea loanee Kenneth Omeruo are among the names likely to return.
Moses Simon should also regain his place, while Daniel Akpeyi will expect to be recalled in goal after keeping clean sheets in the opening two group games.
Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana is also yet to concede in this summer’s tournament and will retain the gloves for Cameroon.
Seedorf made four changes for their final group game against Benin and could welcome Clinton N’Jie and Gaetan Bong back into this starting XI for this one.
Georges Mandjeck missed the final group game altogether but will win his 50th cap if he returns on Saturday, while Paris Saint-Germain’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is expected to start behind the strikers.
Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Akpeyi; Awaziem, Omeruo, Balogun, Aina; Etebo, Ndidi; Simon, Iwobi, Musa; Ighalo
Cameroon possible starting lineup:
Onana; Fai, Ngadeu-Ngadjui, Yaya, Oyongo; Zambo Anguissa, Mandjeck, N’Jie; Choupo-Moting; Bahoken, Toko Ekambi
Head To Head
Cameroon have not beaten Nigeria in any competition since 2000, when they claimed one of their five Africa Cup of Nations trophies with a penalty shootout victory in the final.
Indeed, the Indomitable Lions have only ever beaten Nigeria four times in 22 previous meetings, but remarkably three of those victories have come in the final of this competition.
More recently Nigeria have won four and lost none of the last five contests, including a 5-1 aggregate triumph to seal their place at the 2018 World Cup.
We say: Nigeria 0-1 Cameroon
In truth, this match may not be a thriller. Nigeria have struggled to reach their peak at this tournament so far and have offered nowhere near enough going forward, while Cameroon have been solid at the back and are yet to concede a goal. It is likely to be a low-scoring affair which goes the way of Cameroon.