AFCON 2013 - Ivory Coast vs. Nigeria - Favourites against dark horses
Tournament favourites Ivory Coast meet dark horses Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations 2013 quarter-final, with the Elephants facing a dilemma over whether or not to recall Didier Drogba, and the Super Eagles facing questions as to what would represent a successful showing.
Nigeria have spoken of this year’s edition of the Africa Nations as just the start of what they hope to achieve in the near future. The 2018 World Cup is the real target, a five-year plan to ensure they return to the global competition after being absent since 2002.
Coach Stephen Keshi stressed ahead of the Ivory Coast match that there is no pressure on his side, and, to a point, he’s right. Ivory Coast are widely backed to win the tournament, and there would be no shame in losing to the likes of Drogba and Yaya Toure.
But Keshi insists he is not under outside pressure - that the pressure under which he puts himself is enough. He said: “I'm not under any pressure but I'm under Stephen Keshi's pressure, to do well for Nigerians. Any outside pressure does not exist with me. But I have my own targets and goals I want to achieve.”
Keshi’s words suggest that he believes, even if Nigeria are rolled over by Ivory Coast, that the public reaction will be if not supportive than at least sympathetic - easy to say beforehand but if it rings true should Ivory Coast win comfortably is another matter entirely.
Comfortable is an apt word to describe Ivory Coast’s tournament so far. They got out of Group D with ease, unbeaten, only dropping points after fielding what was practically a reserve side against already-eliminated Algeria in the last round of group matches. Too comfortable, maybe?
Ivory Coast have been favourites for the last few tournaments, and not won any of them. In last year’s tournament they reached the final and played Zambia, who - a little like Nigeria, in Keshi’s mind - were playing without the pressure of expectation. The match went to penalties and in Zambia’s favour.
Perhaps this group of Ivorian players are still stinging from last year’s final disappointment and will turn up to Nigeria fully professional, enter an efficient performance, sweep all before them and go on to the tournament victory they crave. Or perhaps the opposite will be the case, and now they’re into the knockout stage again the fear of failure will creep into the ranks, letting Nigeria sneak through.
It’s nearly two decades since Nigeria won the Africa Nations, and 13 years since they even reached the final. The talent should be there to go close again even if the draw has not been kind. Maybe after shooting to prominence in the mid-1990s, with World Cup appearances, Olympic triumphs to go with 1994’s Africa Nations success, the pressure became too much for Nigeria. If that is the case, then Keshi’s no-pressure approach could lay the foundation for a shock, and with it, yet another Ivorian disappointment.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG