Eagles keen to get off to a flyer
Defending champions Egypt and Nigeria clash in the Africa Cup of Nations Group C curtain raiser under the scorching afternoon sun at the brand-new Ombaka Stadium in Angola today.
Both teams are expected to progress to the knockout stages of the continental showpiece at the expense of Mozambique and Benin in the sleepy town of Benguela, about 600 kilometres from the capital Luanda.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria are using Angola 2010 as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, while six-times African champions Egypt failed to qualify for the global finals after they were upset by fierce regional rivals Algeria in a play-off in November.
Egypt have not beaten Nigeria since 1977 and the last time both sides clashed at this competition was 16 years ago, when they drew 0-0 in a group match as Nigeria went on to win their second Nations Cup title in Tunisia.
"Egypt are in a decline now and we have one of the best teams for a Nations Cup in a long time," boasted Nigeria assistant coach, Daniel Amokachi, who played in that game in Tunis in 1994.
However, Amokachi's teammate in that same game, Austin 'Jay Jay' Okocha, has warned the Pharaohs have to be taken seriously.
"They are double champions for a reason and a skillful midfield could carry them to a hat-trick," he warned.
Egypt, though, are clear that this clash will go a long way in determining how well they will fare in their title defence in Angola.
"Our match against Nigeria will show how we will perform in the following matches, just like the 2008 tournament," said Egypt skipper Ahmed Hassan.
At Ghana 2008, Egypt got off to a great start with an impressive 4-2 opening group win against Cameroon and then went all the way to clinch a record sixth Nations Cup crown at the expense of the same team three weeks later in Accra.
"Nigeria are a strong team, but we are now familiar with all African teams. I told the players they should do their best to realise their own dreams," said Hassan. "Personally, I want to win a fourth African title with the national team."
Meanwhile, despite a dramatic qualification for their fourth World Cup, there remains a growing dissatisfaction with both the Nigeria coach, Shuaibu Amodu, and his team's performance.
He may well be sacked if they do not reach at least the semi-finals in Angola.
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