Underdogs tag suits Super Eagles fine

South Africa's Percy Tau takes on Nigeria's William Troost-Ekong in their Afcon quarterfinal. /Amr Abdallah Dalsh/ Reuters
South Africa's Percy Tau takes on Nigeria's William Troost-Ekong in their Afcon quarterfinal. /Amr Abdallah Dalsh/ Reuters

Nigeria are happy to keep calling themselves underdogs as they head into their Africa Cup of Nations semifinal tonight against an Algeria side who are emerging as tournament favourites at Egypt 2019.

Algeria won three out of three Group C matches, including seeing off Senegal 1-0, under their impressive 43-year-old coach Djamel Belmadi, who has been in the job just a year.

Probably the most solid all-round combination, with the best balance between organisation and attack, Algeria beat Guinea 3-0 in the last-16 and overcame Ivory Coast on penalties in the quarterfinals.

Nigeria have been less clinical in their results. They won their opening two Group B matches to reach the knockout stage but were then stunned 2-0 by tournament upstarts Madagascar in the final group game to concede top place.

The Super Eagles have said that result galvanised them, yet Gernot Rohr's team has continued to concede goals.

They fought back from 2-1 down to oust defending champions Cameroon in the last-16, and conceded an equaliser before William Troost-Ekong scored from a corner for a 2-1 win against Bafana Bafana in the quarters.

So Nigeria are happy to portray themselves as the underdogs in their later semifinal (9pm) at Cairo International Stadium, with Senegal and Tunisia kicking off the earlier game (6pm) at the city's June 30 Stadium.

Rohr, though, said that his team's fighting spirit makes them dangerous.

"What I like in my team is that they never give up when they are down. And we came back in the last minute [against South Africa]. This spirit can bring us very far," the knowledgeable 66-year-old German said.

Nigeria's Dutch-born Udinese centre-back Troost-Ekong was happy to score the goal against South Africa that put his team into the semis.

"Yeah, it's amazing. You dream about moments like this. But, of course, I dream about winning the tournament as well," he said.

"I think Algeria look like the best team in the tournament so far. I think we also have to ask them the question of what do they think about Nigeria now, because Nigeria have slowly improved, and are really looking competitive...

"And yeah, us having a young team, I prefer to be in the underdog role because we can only surprise people."

Nigeria may concede goals a little too frequently, but they have a frontline of right wing Samuel Chukwueze and Ahmed Musa on the left, Arsenal deep striker Alex Iwobi and big centre-forward Odion Ighalo that can make up for it.

Afcon semifinals:

  • Senegal v Tunisia (30 June Stadium, Cairo, 6pm)
  • Algeria v Nigeria (Cairo International Stadium, 9pm).

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