Nigeria begin their quest for a first Africa Cup of Nations title since 2012 when they take on Equatorial Guinea in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Sunday (KO, 14:00).
The three-time winners are under pressure to considerably improve on their performance at the previous tournament in Cameroon in 2022, when they were knocked out in the round of 16.
Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau make up the rest of Group A but first, the Super Eagles face an Equatorial Guinea side that went unbeaten in 2023, last tasting defeat 11 games ago against Cameroon (September 4, 2022).
Below we have previewed this weekend's clash between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea at Alassane Ouattara Stadium, but you can find a more comprehensive examination of the Super Eagles and their chances of success at the 2023 AFCON here.
Nigeria were dealt a huge blow earlier this week with the news that Victor Boniface has been ruled out of the tournament through injury. The Bayer Leverkusen marksman was expected to play a prominent role in the Super Eagles' attack alongside star striker Victor Osimhen (Napoli), but the 23-year-old has now been replaced in the squad by Nice forward Terem Moffi.
Paul Onuachu (Trabzonspor, on loan from Southampton) has also been called into the squad following the withdrawal of Sadiq Umar (Real Sociedad).
With Boniface out, Samuel Chukwueze (AC Milan) and Ademola Lookman (Atalanta) are expected to take on even more responsibility in attack with the likes of Frank Onyeka (Brentford) and Alex Iwobi (Fulham) supporting from midfield in the absence of Leicester City's Wilfred Ndidi.
Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, will once again look to captain Emilio Nsue (Intercity) to provide a spark in attack. The former Middlesbrough and Birmingham City player wasn't known for scoring in England but with 17 international goals, Nsue is his national team's all-time top scorer.
Nigeria have a 100% record in this fixture, winning all three of the previous meetings, and they are 2/5 to make it four out of four on Sunday. A victory for Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, is priced at 7/1, and the draw can be found at 11/4.
Both teams scored in the previous match-up between these two sides in 2018 and it's 6/4 for BTTS - Yes to land again.
Nigeria to win and under 2.5 goals @ 13/8
At risk of sounding like a broken record throughout these AFCON previews, there are usually very few goals in the first round of fixtures, let alone the tournament as a whole.
Nigeria got off to a good start in 2022 with a 1-0 win over Egypt and while they may feel confident of an easier game this time around, Equatorial Guinea - despite a lowly FIFA ranking of 88 - are no mugs.
They only conceded once in the group stage of the 2021 AFCON (played in 2022), in a 1-0 defeat to Ivory Coast, before beating Algeria and Sierra Leone. The National Thunder even kept a clean sheet against Mali in the round of 16, winning 1-0 before being knocked out by the eventual champions Senegal.
What head coach Juan Micha is achieving with a squad of unheralded players - only two of the current crop have played in a 'Top 5' league this season - is quite special.
Four clean sheets in their last six games - two of them against higher-ranked nations in Tunisia and Burkina Faso - should inspire belief that they can shut out Nigeria, but the Super Eagles could really do with picking up three points if they want to finish top of Group A, and they should have just enough firepower to secure the victory on Sunday, as suggested by former Nigeria defender Efan Ekoku, who won six international caps with his nation.
He told Betfred: "Nigeria have got good firepower. A little bit like Cameroon, if there's very little outside noise or noise coming in to disrupt the camp, the players have shown that they can perform.
"Perhaps coming a little bit under the radar helps, so Nigeria I see being narrow winners, 1-0 or 2-1."
A correct scoreline of 1-0 is at 18/5, but taking Nigeria and the under 2.5 is the safer bet.
Victor Osimhen to score first @ 11/4
Ekoku also had his say on Nigeria's star man, telling Betfred: "It's great for the tournament when the big names score. It's good for the player personally and it's good for the team - nobody likes an unhappy striker.
"If Osimhen doesn't score a couple in the group stage, I'd be surprised."
The 25-year-old is 21/20 to score anytime on Sunday, and the absences of Boniface and Sadiq should further boost the chances of him finding the net against Equatorial Guinea, as he should play most - if not all - of the 90-plus minutes, especially with Leicester City's Kelechi Iheanacho also off the back of an injury.
But if the previous selection of a Nigeria win and under 2.5 goals takes your fancy, backing Osimhen to score first at 11/4 offers value.
He was first on the scoresheet in his last competitive game for Nigeria - a 6-0 win over Sao Tome and Principe last September, when he scored a hat-trick - and his country will be looking to him to take the pressure off and fire the first goal.
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