‘Group of Death’ for the Super Eagles at 2023 AFCON will be drawing hosts Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa and Angola in the first round and the question then would be – can they reach the knockout rounds from such a tough-looking section?
Hosts Cote d’Ivoire will be gunning for a third AFCON crown after they failed to qualify for the last World Cup in Qatar.
The Elephants failed to be crowned champions of Africa when they last hosted the tournament in 1984.
Instead, it was the Eagles who reached the final of that AFCON, where they fell 3-1 to Cameroon.
The Ivorians have won the last two head-to-head meetings against Nigeria – 2-0 in a CHAN clash July 2013 and 1-0 a friendly January 2015.
But most Nigerians will recall with pride how the Eagles soared above The Elephants in the quarterfinal of the 2013 AFCON on their way to a third continental title.
In the place of legends like Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, Cote d’Ivoire now parade the likes of Sebastien Haller, Wilfred Zaha and Max Gradel.
They will test their readiness with warm-up matches against Morocco and South Africa at home this month.
African champions as hosts in 1996, Bafana Bafana of South Africa will these days look forward to coming face-to-face with erstwhile Nemesis Nigeria as they appear to have turned the table against the West African rivals.
In 2017, South Africa stunned the Eagles 2-0 in Uyo in a 2019 AFCON qualifier after they had not lost to them for over three years.
However, at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt, Nigeria got their revenge when they ousted Bafana Bafana in the quarterfinal 2-1.
It was the last time both teams have clashed.
Such a match-up will take added importance as both teams are also drawn in the same qualifying group for the 2026 World Cup.
Highly-rated Belgian coach Hugo Broos has made the most of his second stint in charge of Bafana Bafana, while Al Ahly forward Percy Tau and Burnley striker Lyle Foster are among their star players.
Nigerian fans will recall with anguish how Angola denied the country to feature at the 2006 World Cup in Germany on the head-to-head basis.
You will have to go back to January 2018 for the last time both teams came face-to-face at the CHAN with Nigeria edging it 2-1.
Both countries have met 10 times at full international level with Nigeria winning three and drawing five of these games.
The Palancas Negras qualified for the 2023 AFCON as runners-up in Group E, which also had Ghana, Madagascar and Central African Republic.
Gelson Dala, 27, who scored two goals in the AFCON qualifiers, is one their top stars.
The attacking midfielder or forward now plays in Qatar after stints in Portugal and Turkey and made his full international debut eight years ago.
Whoever are drawn against the Super Eagles tonight, you can be rest assured that it will not be a stroll in the park for them in Cote d’Ivoire in January.
They will have to be at their best both as players and as a team to be back on top of African football again.