Plotting Nigerias PATH TO THE FINAL

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F360
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Plotting Nigerias PATH TO THE FINAL

Post by F360 »

C/O of the great Solace Chukwu

https://www.pulse.ng/sports/football/su ... al/5gtq0qh
You have often heard it said that to be the best, you have to beat the best.


It’s a healthy enough sentiment, the sort to peer at on your bedroom wall as you prepare to attack the day, fist clenched. However, as far as tournament football goes (specifically, in this case, the Africa Cup of Nations), just how true is it?

Going on the evidence of the last five AFCON winners, it does appear that it is necessary to face at least two of the teams in the continent’s top five en route to winning the competition. Zambia in 2012 and Nigeria the following year were the only winners to face three teams inside Africa’s top five – Senegal, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire for the former; Zambia, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali for the latter.

However, the average ranking (for our purpose, FIFA’s) of opponents faced to win the AFCON is consistently above 10; only Cote d’Ivoire in 2015 dipped below that, with the average ranking of their opponents coming out to 7.17. It gets even more interesting once you take into account the discrepancy between the averages and the ranking of the eventual winners, as only Zambia (again) faced, on average, a higher quality of opposition than themselves on the way to their unlikely triumph.

What this means is that – and this is true for all of tournament football – an onerous path is not imperative. They all count alike, and the record books do not discriminate.

So, just what paths are available to Nigeria at AFCON, and which would be most desirable? Note that this assessment will necessarily require a bit of conjecture and projection, as well as some maths. Strap in.

Finishing third

As we know, aside from the group winners and runners-up, there are four other players in the Round of 16 reserved for best third-placed teams.

Now, while it is admittedly difficult to plan for this eventuality, as your destiny is not in your own hands, what exactly would finishing third in Group D entail, beyond widespread apoplexy? There are two paths open to the third-place team in Group D – a meeting with the winner of either Group A or B. Neither option is particularly pleasurable: the latter route would, in all likelihood, lead to a meeting with Africa’s top-ranked side Senegal, while the former would mean a renewal of acquaintances with the hosts and perennial AFCON rivals Cameroon.

Considering the Indomitable Lions have a mean home record, that could be a proper challenge, and the home crowd would be fired up. However, Nigeria’s struggles in AFCON against Cameroon have tended to come in finals specifically, so there is definitely scope for an upset. Win that and the draw actually opens up a bit, with a meeting against Guinea or Mali in the Quarter-finals, followed by either of Algeria or Morocco in the Semi-finals.
Alternatively, the Senegal route – were Nigeria to come through that test – would lead to a meeting with Cote d’Ivoire, followed by Burkina Faso or Egypt in the final four.

Projected opponents (up to final): Cameroon, Mali, Algeria (path 1); Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt (path 2)

Average ranking of projected opponents: 6.33 (path 1); 5.66 (path 2)

Average FIFA ranking points of projected opponents: 1460.61 (path 1); 1477.10 (path 2)

Finishing second

This is a little more straightforward to consider, as the messiness of multiple third-place finish scenarios is eliminated.

Should Nigeria finish as runners-up in Group D, their next engagement would be with the winner of Group E. This is likely to be the reigning African champions Algeria, to whom Nigeria have lost twice in the last 30 months (including a charged semi-final in the last edition). Come through that somehow and there is, improbably, still no let-up. The following round would see Nigeria most likely go up against Morocco in the Quarter-finals, before a semi-final meeting with either Mali or Cameroon.

Projected opponents (up to final): Algeria, Morocco, Cameroon

Average ranking of projected opponents: 4

Average FIFA ranking points of projected opponents: 1494.60

Topping the group

If, as is widely expected, Nigeria wins Group D, then the Round of 16 throws up a much easier prospect than either of the aforementioned scenarios. Nigeria will face a third-place team from one of Groups B, E or F – this is most likely to be Equatorial Guinea, who should get the win and margin they need against Sierra Leone in Group E.

If progress is secured there, the Super Eagles will try on either Burkina Faso or Ghana for size, setting up a potentially massive showdown with Senegal in the Semi-finals. Come through that somehow and there is, improbably, still no let-up. The following round would see Nigeria most likely go up against Morocco in the Quarter-finals, before a semi-final meeting with either Mali or Cameroon.

Projected opponents (up to final): Algeria, Morocco, Cameroon

Average ranking of projected opponents: 4

Average FIFA ranking points of projected opponents: 1494.60

Topping the group

If, as is widely expected, Nigeria wins Group D, then the Round of 16 throws up a much easier prospect than either of the aforementioned scenarios. Nigeria will face a third-place team from one of Groups B, E or F – this is most likely to be Equatorial Guinea, who should get the win and margin they need against Sierra Leone in Group E.

If progress is secured there, the Super Eagles will try on either Burkina Faso or Ghana for size, setting up a potentially massive showdown with Senegal in the Semi-finals. Come through that somehow and there is, improbably, still no let-up. The following round would see Nigeria most likely go up against Morocco in the Quarter-finals, before a semi-final meeting with either Mali or Cameroon.

Projected opponents (up to final): Algeria, Morocco, Cameroon

Average ranking of projected opponents: 4

Average FIFA ranking points of projected opponents: 1494.60

Topping the group

If, as is widely expected, Nigeria wins Group D, then the Round of 16 throws up a much easier prospect than either of the aforementioned scenarios. Nigeria will face a third-place team from one of Groups B, E or F – this is most likely to be Equatorial Guinea, who should get the win and margin they need against Sierra Leone in Group E.

If progress is secured there, the Super Eagles will try on either Burkina Faso or Ghana for size, setting up a potentially massive showdown with Senegal in the Semi-finals. Projected opponents (up to final): Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso, Senegal

Average FIFA ranking of projected opponents: 13.3

Average FIFA ranking points of projected opponents: 1372.03

Conclusion

The obvious takeaway of this mathematical exercise – that Nigeria would be significantly better off finishing top of Group D – might seem obvious, but it is far from a no-brainer: in Group F, for instance, there is an obvious incentive to finishing second instead.

Aside from getting an easier draw mathematically, topping the group also has the benefit of limiting top 10 opposition in the knockout stage to just one opponent – Senegal – who would only come into the frame in the Semi-finals. The implication of that is clear: more time on the training ground and in competitive matches to build, not just momentum, but chemistry, in light of the fact that a number of key Super Eagles players are missing.

Alternatively, the numbers suggest that, failing group headship, there is greater upside to finishing third in the group than second, especially going through the Cameroon half of the draw. Playing the hosts is always daunting, but as South Africa proved last time out in their elimination of Egypt, it can be done.

That would set up a rematch with Algeria (which would also happen were Nigeria to finish second), but again that would come in the Semi-finals, and with the benefit of the sort of emotional boost that comes with defeating a major foe and silencing the home crowd.
Essentially we need Nigeria to either win the group or come in third if they want a good chance at advancing in the knockout stage.
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