Heavily weighted with expectations, Cameroon and Nigeria bring their underperforming circuses to Alexandria for a last 16 clash on Saturday afternoon.
Both emerged from their groups in second place. Defending champions Cameroon finished behind Ghana in Group F while in Group B, Nigeria slumped to a 2-0 defeat to tournament debutants Madagascar.
For Saturday’s winner? Temporary redemption. The loser? Elimination and, probably, the chance for the coach to seek gainful employment elsewhere.
Cameroon boss Clarence Seedorf boasts a trophy laden playing career at several of the world’s most glamorous clubs such as Ajax, AC Milan and Real Madrid. But since turning his hand to coaching in Italy, China and Spain he has not achieved success.
During the 2019 Cup of Nations, the 43-year-old Dutchman has varied his line-ups especially in attack. But the tweaks have only produced two goals. Those came against Guinea Bissau. There were 0-0 draws against Benin and Ghana.
“The changes don’t bother us,” said Cameroon skipper Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. “We always respect the coach’s choices.
“We have confidence in all the players. The most important thing is to stick together,” added the Paris Saint-Germain striker, who has also found himself on the bench despite serving as team captain.
“We must improve in several areas, notably in attack,” said Seedorf. “We must be more intelligent to create more chances. We’ve shown our potential. We haven’t yet conceded a goal. There are positive things.
“Sometimes teams don’t score for weeks, forwards for months. We’re remaining confident.”
The same sentiment inhabits the Nigeria camp. “It is better losing in the group stages than in the knockout stages,” deadpanned the skipper Jon Obi Mikel after the defeat to Madagascar.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr is likely to restore Kenneth Omeruo to the starting eleven after errors across the back line gifted goals to Madagascar.
“It’s going to be a tough game against Cameroon,” said defender William Troost-Ekong. “Everyone was upset about the last game against Madagascar so I think everyone has that extra motivation to prove a point. It’s do or die because we know we have to do everything to stay in the tournament.”