Former FIFA U17 World Cup-winning captain Kelechi Nwakali will be stand-in captain when Nigeria opens its Africa U23 Cup of Nations campaign against the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in Cairo on Saturday.
Nwakali is expected to supply the ammunition from the midfield for the strikers along with Orji Okwonkwo.
The West African derby will unfold at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo – the same venue where the Super Eagles picked up the bronze medal of the 2019 AFCON after pipping Tunisia 1-0.kick off is 3 pm Egypt time (2 pm in Nigeria).
Coach Imama Amapakabo has been able to welcome the majority of his listed overseas-based professionals, and with the complement of glory–hungry home-based professionals expect to brush aside the challenge of the Ivorians, Zambia, and South Africa in the group phase.
On Thursday, the Nigeria camp received a morale boost when top officials of the Nigeria embassy in Cairo, led by Abubakar Sadiq Muhammad, visited the team to deliver the message of the ambassador, His Excellency Professor Dandatti Abdulkadir, OFR.
“On behalf of the Nigerian Ambassador to Egypt, Prof. Dandatti Abdulkadir, OFR, and the Nigerian Government, I welcome you to Egypt and wish you a successful outing in the forthcoming U23 AFCON tournament. Football is a major unifying factor in our country, and I believe you will all make us proud of starting with the game against Cote d’Ivoire.
“Our presence here is to make sure you are comfortable. We will be at the stadium on Saturday in order to give you our maximum support,” said Muhammad, in company with head of chancery Ibrahim Ahmed Al-Ghazali and Muhammad Tukur Garba, administrative officer.
The Nigeria U23 contingent spent six days in Ismailia fine-tuning preparations for the finals before arriving in Cairo on Wednesday, where they are staying at the Novotel Hotel and Resorts.
Despite missing the services of substantive captain Azubuike Okechukwu and forward Taiwo Awoniyi for Saturday’s encounter, Amakapabo is bullish about the chances of his team against the fellow West Africans.