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AFCON: Can Samuel Chukwueze help Nigeria beat Egypt?

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Taimour Lay
Posted on Tuesday, 11 January 2022 12:53

Nigeria and Villarreal's Samuel Chukwueze in action
Nigeria and Villarreal's Samuel Chukwueze in action REUTERS/Pablo Morano

Nigeria faces Egypt and the mighty Mo Salah in today's clash in the Africa Cup of Nations at 5pm Cameroon time. But Nigeria are no slouches in attack themselves; forward Samuel Chukwueze has been in form for both Villarreal and Nigeria.

The young winger’s man of the match display in the quarter-final against South Africa at Afcon 2019 looked to set to confirm his place as one of Nigeria’s biggest stars in a revamped team. His goal that night in Cairo uncharacteristically came with his right foot but showed his ability to prosper in central positions or cutting in from the opposite flank.

Chukwueze is used to international success, having been part of the Nigeria side that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2015, recording three goals and three assists. Having been developed at the Diamond Academy in Nigeria, he signed for Villarreal in 2017, where Unai Emery has been a consistent support.

Injury issues

The 22-year-old’s progress has been hampered recently by an injury sustained playing for his club side in a Europa League semi-final against Arsenal back in May 2021. While that led to five months out, he returned to the fray at the end of last year, impressing again in La Liga with two goals as he seeks to prove his fitness. He was influential for his club side in a 5-0 win on 4 January before heading out to join the national team.

It is unclear which Nigeria will turn up or how favoured Chukwueze will be.

If it is the often functional and uninspired unit that slumped to a home defeat to Central African Republic in World Cup Qualifying in October, then this tournament will be a struggle. Chukwueze’s prospects, like that of the team more generally, will also depend on the approach taken by interim manager Augustine Eguavoen, brought in at the very last moment to replace the sacked German, Gernot Rohr.

Making that change just one month before Afcon has meant few are predicting a Nigerian success in Cameroon.

Time for youth

But even with several players missing, the experienced Ahmed Musa, Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho are more than capable of facilitating the younger talents alongside them, including Chukwueze, in-form striker Taiwo Awoniyi and the exciting Chidera Ejuke. Fortune favours the brave. Winning Group D matters. Achieving second-place – probable given the limited opposition presented by Sudan and Guinea-Bissau – would result in a likely last-16 tie against favourites Algeria.

That makes a positive result against Egypt today even more important. If Chukwueze doesn’t start, he will be primed for an impact from the bench against the often statuesque Pharaohs defence.

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