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Preview: Ivory Coast vs. Nigeria – prediction, team news, lineups – Sports Mole

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Africa Cup of Nations hosts Ivory Coast will be looking to build on their opening-day victory and book a place in the knockout stages when they take on Nigeria at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé on Thursday.
Off the back of a 1-1 opening-day draw against Equatorial Guinea, the Super Eagles will head into the game looking to recover from their disappointing start and get their quest for continental glory back on track.

Ivory Coast players celebrate after Seko Fofana scores their first goal on January 13, 2024© Reuters
Ivory Coast kicked off the 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations as they would have hoped as they picked up a comfortable 2-0 victory over Guinea-Bissau last Saturday.
Al Nasr man Seko Fofana gave the hosts a dream start to the game as he curled home the opener inside the opening four minutes before Jean-Philippe Krasso put the result beyond doubt with a 58th-minute effort.
Jean-Louis Gasset‘s men have now gone seven consecutive games without defeat across all competitions, including four wins on the bounce since a 1-1 friendly draw against South Africa back in October.
This fine run of results has also seen Les Elephants pick up two wins in their two World Cup qualifying games as they hammered Seychelles 9-0 on November 17 before claiming a 2-0 victory over Gambia in Dar es Salaam.
Firing on all cylinders and with the backing of their home supporters, Ivory Coast now set out to pick up successive wins in their opening two games at the AFCON finals for the first time since 2013, when they edged out Togo and Tunisia before playing out a 2-2 draw with Algeria.
Incidentally, Nigeria won the title back in 2013, when they finished as runners-up in Group C before going all the way to the final, where they claimed a narrow 1-0 victory over Burkina Faso at the First National Bank Stadium.
Nigeria's Victor Osimhen pictured on July 17, 2019© Reuters
The Super Eagles head into Thursday’s clash under more pressure as they were denied a winning start to the continental showpiece after playing out a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea last Saturday.
Victor Osimhen restored parity less than two minutes after Iban Salvador netted against the run of play to put the Nzalang Nacional in front but the Super Eagles were guilty of a wasteful display in front of goal as they failed to tuck home any of their several clear-cut chances.
This was the latest in the worrying list of dismal results under Portuguese head coach Jose Peseiro, as Nigeria have now gone four back-to-back matches without a win across all competitions, losing once and picking up three draws since October’s 3-2 friendly victory over Mozambique.
The three-time African champions failed to win their two games in the World Cup qualifiers back in November as they were held to a share of the spoils by Lesotho and Zimbabwe, who are currently 148th and 124th in the FIFA World Rankings respectively.
While Nigeria need all three points to avoid the risk of a first group-stage exit since 1982, they will have to be at their best on Wednesday as AFCON hosts are unbeaten in 37 of their last 38 group-stage games and are currently on a run of 17 straight matches without defeat in the group stages since 2012.
The West African heavyweights will draw inspiration from their last AFCON encounter with Ivory Coast when they picked up a 2-1 victory over Les Elephants in the quarter-finals back in 2013 en route to clinching the title in South Africa.

Ivory Coast's Nicolas Pepe celebrates scoring their third goal with teammates on January 20, 2022© Reuters
Sebastian Haller was a notable absentee in last weekend’s opening game and the 29-year-old striker is a doubt for Thursday’s clash as he continues his recovery from an ankle injury.
While Haller is yet to find the back of the net for Dortmund in the Bundesliga this season, he has scored in three of his last four games for Ivory Coast since last October.
Krasso was trusted to spearhead the Les Elephants’ attack against Guinea-Bissau and the 26-year-old should team up with Jeremie Boga and Celta Vigo forward Jonathan Bamba.
Fofana netted the opening of the 2023 AFCON with a brilliant curler and the 28-year-old should retain his role in the centre of the park, alongside the experienced duo of Ibrahim Sangare and skipper Franck Kessie.
Sporting Lisbon man Ousmane Diomande made his AFCON debut at the weekend and should form the centre-back pairing with Evan Ndicka, while Wilfried Singo and Ghislain Konan should take up the full-back roles once again.
Alhassan Yusuf was stretchered off injured midway through the second half in Nigeria’s opener against Equatorial Guinea on Sunday and the Royal Antwerp midfielder is a major doubt for Thursday’s game.
Should he fail to shake off the injury, Southampton’s Joe Aribo should come into the fray for the Super Eagles, forming the midfield trio with the Premier League duo of Frank Onyeka and Alex Iwobi.
Osimhen opened his account at the AFCON with his equaliser against the Nzalang Nacional and the Napoli man should spearhead Nigeria’s attack once again, alongside Moses Simon and 26-year-old Ademola Lookman.
At the opposite end of the pitch, we expect an unchanged back four of Ola Aina, Semi Ajayi, William Troost-Ekong and Porto full-back Zaidu Sanusi, with Chippa United man Stanley Nwabali starting between the sticks once again.

Ivory Coast possible starting lineup:
Y Fofana; Singo, Diomande, Ndicka, Konan; Kessie, Sangare, S Fofana; Boga, Krasso, Bamba
Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Nwabali; Aina, Ajayi, Troost-Ekong, Sanusi; Onyeka, Aribo, Iwobi; Simon, Lookman, Osimhen

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Ivory Coast head into this one with sky-high confidence following their solid display against Guinea-Bissau. However, we expect their defence to be put to the test on Thursday, given Nigeria’s talented attacking unit led by Osimhen. We predict that both sides will cancel out each other’s efforts and settle for a share of the spoils.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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