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Nigeria, Guinea eye perfect start in group B

Nigeria are three time African champions. (PHOTOS/AGENCIES)

AFCON 2019 – Group B

Alexandria Stadium, Alexandria

Saturday, 22-06-2019

-Nigeria vs Burundi @8pm

-Guinea vs Madagascar @11pm

The Africa Cup of Nations got underway on Friday, June 21st, with host Egypt defeating Zimbabwe 1-0 at the Cairo International Stadium in Cairo.

On Saturday, three games will be played with two coming in Group B.

In one of the games, Nigeria will be eyeing for a good start when they take on Minors-Burundi at the Alexandria Stadium at 8pm.

The Super Eagles have for years been one of the giants of African football and will be expected to take care of their Saturday opponents in Alexandria.

With three AFCON titles in the bag (1980, 1994, 2013), Gernot Rohr’s side are hoping for a 4th in Egypt. But that journey has to get off to the best possible start and anything but three points off Burundi will be unacceptable.

“I think we can come out of the group. From there, we can then take it match by match, but the most important thing now is the first game against Burundi, says Rohr ahead of the game.

“The first game is always important. It is always difficult. Everyone is always fresh; the small countries don’t have anything to lose.

“Burundi have good players in England and Europe. They have players in South Africa which makes them a dangerous opponent.

“But we are Nigeria. We played at the World Cup in Russia as one of the five African countries which is good for us. We also have 15 players from the World Cup in this team which is quite remarkable.”

Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho appears to have won the battle to start in goal for Nigeria after featuring in the final warm-up match. John Mikel Obi has proved his fitness on his return to the fold and he is still a key man in midfield, forming the backbone of the side alongside Wilfred Ndidi. Alex Iwobi is expected to play just off Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa, meanwhile, giving the Super Eagles one of the strongest attacking line-ups in the competition. Ighalo scored seven goals during their qualifying campaign and was the top scorer overall in 2019 AFCON qualifying.

For Burundi, this is the first time that they have made it through to the finals. They finished second in their qualifying group behind Mali having remained unbeaten with two wins and four draws from their six matches. Fiston Abdul Razak (six) and Cedric Amissi (three) scored nine of their eleven goals during qualifying and will be the players that are expected to cause havoc to Nigeria.

The game against Nigeria is one that Burundi are expected to lose but like the AFCON has proved in the recent past, nothing should be taken for granted.

This will be the first ever competitive meeting between Nigeria and Burundi.

In the other Group B game, Guinea will square off with Madagascar at the same venue, three hours later.

The National Elephants’ players have been warned against getting by their head coach, Paul Put as they seek to get their campaign up and running.

“The first match is always very important because it will give us confidence to head into the rest of the tournament,” noted Put.

“But, it is also dangerous because we are playing against a side that is regarded as an underdog and most of the time they are dangerous.

“Madagascar is a quality team. It might be their first AFCON but they have very experienced players.

“We have to pay attention to every detail to get a good result.”

Guinea are back at the finals after missing out on the last edition in 2017 in Gabon. They were quarter-finalists on their last appearance in 2015. Although they were unbeaten during qualification, they were held to a draw in each of their last three matches of the qualifying campaign and three consecutive defeats in friendly matches since then mean they come into the tournament without a win during their last six matches. Star midfielder Naby Keita is included in the squad but his involvement may be limited as he is still struggling with a thigh injury and has not played since early May.

Guinea are making a return to AFCON after missing out on the 2017 edition in Gabon.

Madagascar have qualified for the tournament for the first time and they were actually one of the first teams to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations having done so with two matches to spare after a victory over Equatorial Guinea last October. They arrived in Egypt on Tuesday having completed their training camp for the tournament at the French Football Federation headquarters, and they have a number of French based players who ply their trade outside of the top flight. Just reaching the finals is a huge achievement for Madagascar as they come to Egypt without high expectations and are just hoping to be competitive and enjoy the experience.

The other game on Saturday

-DR Congo vs Uganda @5pm

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