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banner Thursday, 3 February, 2000, 11:56 GMT
Latest score: Nigeria 0-0 Morocco

Big names: Nigeria's Celestine Babayaro and Efotobore Sodje


Latest score: Nigeria 0-0 Morocco

The big guns of the African Nations Cup, Nigeria and Morocco, meet on Thursday locked in a verbal war over who can claim to be the continent's leading side.

The north Africans have been ranked by Fifa as the No 1 team in Africa for more than a year with the star-studded Nigerians a full 14 places behind, largely due to inacitivity.

Clash of Titans

But despite the official figures, Nigeria are confident their superiority will tell.

"No doubt about it, we have the better team," said Nigeria's assistant team coach Stephen Keshi, a veteran of many battles against the North Africans in his days as ex-team captain.

Borussia Dortmund striker, Victor Ikpeba, with two goals in the tournament, added: "If you're talking about a team with the best players in this tournament, we're well above the Moroccans."

All but one of Nigeria's 22-man squad play for clubs abroad.


Hadji: Confident of victory for Morocco
But the Moroccans, who also have many players with top European clubs, are equally confident.

Team captain and centre back Noureddine Naybet said: "We've been unbeaten since September 1998 and are the best team in Africa."

Morocco, trained by French coach Henri Michel, have not lost a game since Belgium crushed them 4-0 in a friendly.

"We have a side that plays with discipined tactics and uniformity of purpose," said midfielder Youssef Chippo, who plays with English premier league side Coventry.

Chippo, who retired early from last week's 0-0 drawn game against Tunisia, is likely to miss the game due to injury, while Naybet is automatically suspended for collecting two yellow cards in previous matches.



We are psychologically ready but it'll be a difficult for us as the Nigerians play with their supporters behind them
Morocco striker Mustapha Hadji
But despite the noisy war of words, fellow Group D teams Congo and Tunisia fear that the rivals, who both have four points apiece, will shake hands on a boring draw to ensure mutual qualification to the quarter-finals.

The Nigerians lead the group on goal difference and though a draw would see both teams through, each have a great deal to play for.

The top-team stays in Lagos to play surprise packets Senegal while the second-placed side travels north to Kano for a North African showdown with defending champions Egypt.

While Morocco have beaten Nigeria twice in previous Nations Cup meetings: 3-1 and 2-1 in to win the 1976 finals, the Super Eagles have won just once - 1-0 in the semi-final of the 1980 event which they hosted and won.

Nigeria's coach Jo Bonfrere says the side with the right mental attitude will have the edge.

Psychological edge

"We had that problem with Congo last week, hence the 0-0 draw. But I and my assistants have turned psychologists and have been working on the boys to get the right result," he said.

Striker Mustapha Hadji, who like Chippo plays for Coventry, said: "We are psychologically ready but it'll be a difficult for us as the Nigerians play with their supporters behind them."

The Nigerian team though could face a lack of support after anger from the local fans following the result against the unfancied Congolese.

Irate fans hurled plastic bottles onto the pitch and smashed the window of the team bus before being dispersed by tear gas fired by police.

The Confederation of African Football called it "unruly behaviour", fined the Nigerians $2,000 and warned that a repeat of the crowd trouble would lead to the team playing behind closed doors at the 40,000-capacity Surulere Stadium..

Right winger Finidi George, with Spanish club Real Betis, said he had still not recovered from the fans' anger.

"I lost my younger brother who played for Nigeria's Under-17 team because of crowd violence. How am I not sure that my time is near?," he said.

The younger George, Igeniwari, was shot dead in 1995 when spectators' riot on the terraces caused an FA Cup game between his club Rangers FC and Stationery Stores in southwestern Ibadan town to be abandoned.

The Super Eagles as well as the Nigerian Football Supporters Club (NFSC) have appealed to the fans to give maximum support in their remaining matches in the tournament.

"We want to apologise to the fans because we couldn't satisfy them in the Congo match but we also plead that they give us total support in our next games," said team captain Sunday Oliseh, who is reportedly sick with malaria.

A pay dispute that was partly blamed for the lacklustre display against the Red Devils has been resolved with each player receiving $3,000 for the victory over Tunisia and $1,500 for the draw with Congo.

Teams:

Nigeria: 1-Ike Shoronmu; 3-Celestine Babayaro, 4-Nwankwo Kanu, 5-Furo Iyenemi, 6-Taribo West, 7-Finidi George, 8-Mutiu Adepoju, 10-Austin Okocha, 13-Tijani Babangida, 19-Benedict Akwuegbu, 21-Godwin Okpara

Morocco: 2-Abdelilah Saber; 5-Rachid Neqrouz, 7-Mustapha Hadji, 8-Said Chiba, 12-Khalid Fouhami, 13-Ahmed Bahja, 14-Salaheddine Bassir, 15-Lahcen Abrami, 16-Youssef Mariana, 19-Jamal Sellami, 20-Taher El Khalej

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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Draw takes Algeria through
01 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Egypt triumph in African epic
30 Jan 00 |  Cup News
Nigeria double ticket prices
28 Jan 00 |  Cup News
Tunisia and Morocco share points
30 Jan 00 |  Cup News
Nigeria and Egypt fined
28 Jan 00 |  Cup News
Eagles frustrated by Congo
14 Jan 00 |  Cup News
Group tables
Links to other Cup News stories are at the foot of the page.