BY SAB OSUJI
Chuks Akuneto, Oldham Athletic Football Club U19s Manager, has given his thoughts on the 2023 AFCON final match between rampant Super Eagles of Nigeria and host nation, Elephants of Ivory Coast which holds inside the magnificent Houghet Boigny Stadium, Abidjan, on Sunday, 11 February, 2024.
Akuneto, who is also a Coaching Instructor for the English FA, voiced his conviction that the final match up between the two West African Nation's who both played in Group A during the group stage of the tournament will be tough, saying it will be a '50-50 affair'.
During their group A clash, Super Eagles ran out 1-0 winners, with Sunday's final confrontation possessing all the trappings of a 'revenge match' for the Ivoiriens.
"As for the final, It will be difficult against the hosts who will play from their hearts with a lot of emotions as they will enjoy home advantage", starts the former Nigeria midfielder who equally featured for the famous Enugu Rangers and 'Flaming Super Stores', Stationery Stores of Lagos before sojourneying to Europe.
"We will need our players to play with 'calmness' but with 'great pride and determination'.
"I believe that Osimhen will come to the fore in the final and if we get our final deliveries into the box right,,we will come out victorious as we don't concede many goals. You go to finals to win and not to play well. I think it is a 50-50 game".
Super Eagles are aiming for their fourth AFCON Title following triumphs in 1980 (in Lagos), 1994 (in Tunisia) and 2013 (in South Africa).
Ivory Coast, on the other hand, are chasing their third AFCON title having won it twice in Senegal in 1992 and 2015 in Equatorial Guinea.
Akuneto further told Exclusivenews.com.ng from his base in the United Kingdom on Thursday night after Super Eagles pyrrhic 4-2 penalty kicks win against South Africa that Manager Jose Peseiro still have some work to do in his team's attacking department, stressing that though Super Eagles have a somewhat tight backline that aren't conceding goals, the team still lacked that cutting edge in the final third.
"We still need to work on our finishing; our play in the final third needs a lot of improvement", Akuneto observed.
"Still waiting for Osimhe to find his scoring boot, but he makes up with his high level of intensity in his game which causes opponents a lot of issues.
"I think our two support strikers should exploit and benefit from the work Osimhen puts in".
Akuneto reflected on Super Eagles Thursday night's explosive semi final showdown with the Bafana Bafana of South Africa.
"The team played their usual game of sitting in a mid block, inviting the opposition into a small but crowded area before counter attacking", he said.
"We started strongly, but South Africa managed to figure us out and resorted to playing over our defense which troubled us, giving us anxious moments. But the goalkeeper, Stanley Nwabali was always there whenever he was needed.
"The team was rattled when the second goal was canceled and a penalty awarded against us. We were 'lucky' that it happened towards the end of the 90 minutes. We barely hung on, South Africa had a clear chance off a rebound from Stanley's save, but luck was on our side as the South African player hoofed the ball over the bar with the net wide open in front of him.
"South Africa played the extra time hoping to take the game into penalty kicks because of the prowess of their goalkeeper, Ronwen Williams. But the boys (Eagles) were 'Super' on the night as they put four (4) behind him (Williams), while Stanley rose to the occasion with two brilliant saves of the South Africans penalty kicks. A well fought for and deserved victory for Nigeria", Akuneto submitted.